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House Bill Would Let Adoption Agencies Base Child Placement On Moral, Religious Beliefs

baby feet and stuffed bunny feet in photo
Alba Soler

Just days after the full Florida House approved a plan ceremoniously allowing LGBT couples to adopt, a house committee has passed a bill that would let state-funded adoption agencies deny adoptions to families who don’t abide the agency’s religious or moral beliefs. Activists say the measure is a clear attempt to block same sex families from adopting.

Same sex couples have been allowed to adopt children since an appellate court over turned a 1977 ban in 2010. But House Health and Human Services Committee Chair Jason Brodeur says that’s caused concerns for some of the faith based agencies the state contracts with to conduct adoptions.

“And so we have a conscience protection legislation here that is a means to ensure that child protection agencies that do that kind of work and private adoptions with religious beliefs may continue serving children and families through statutory protection," Brodeur says.

Brodeur says organizations such as Catholic Charity agencies have stopped providing adoptions in other states. And Brodeur worries if that happens in the Sunshine state it could hurt Florida’s children. Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Bill Bunkley says his adopted son Zachary was born addicted to oxycodone, but wasn’t taken to a hospital until about a month after his birth.

“Most of you know what Oxycodone kids today, if you go to your NICU units you know that a significant number of the kids are kids having to be put on immediate medication because of the withdraw. My son had none of that. He was a little infant that hit the wall with no help," Bunkley says.

Now Bunkley says Zachary is 9-year-old and earning all As in school. He says that why the bill is needed--so faith-based adoption agencies can continue to help kids like Zachary.

But Barbara DeVane with the National Organization of Women disagrees.

"That was a wonderful story. I’m almost in tears," DeVane says.  "I have children and grandchildren. And when I was in Sunday school and church, I remember the words of Jesus – suffer the little children. But I don’t understand why allowing someone to discriminate against adopting children because of their religious or moral convictions have anything to do with this story. Why couldn’t anyone who wanted to raise Zachary be able to do so without discriminating against them?"

DeVane calls the measure "the most disgusting, hypocritical bill" she’s ever heard in a committee. And Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Plantation) says she finds the measure offensive.

“I find it very ironic to sit here and have to hear a bill today when we’re actually trying to expand and not restrict adoptions to force individuals who actually have the love the compassion, the wherewithal to actually seek out adoption versus all the other options out there and ask them to go child shopping, I think is ridiculous,” Edwards says.

And Edwards points out the state is steadily increasing the number of private agencies it contracts to do state work.

“If I follow the trends in this legislature and what’s happening in our state, what if we move toward 90-percent privatization, 100-percent privatization in the next three to five years,” Edwards asks.

Edwards says that would mean almost every adoption would be conducted by an agency free to deny a family based on any religious or moral belief. Other lawmakers raised concerns about what that would mean for families. Would an otherwise qualified, but divorced aunt be denied the chance to adopt her niece? But those in support of the bill argue the measure does not discriminate. They argue a person wishing to adopt would simply need to find agency in the state that aligns with their beliefs.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy covers healthcare and government in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories here.