The Georgia Senate has passed a bill that would enable faith-based child welfare providers to pass on recruiting or training LGBTQ couples or unmarried people interested in fostering or adopting children.
Senate Bill 375, which passed the chamber by a 35-19 vote, would permit a state contractor to refrain from working with such families without fear of penalties or cancellation of contracts.
The House may vote on the bill as soon as this week, and approval in that chamber would send the bill to the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal (R). Deal has vetoed similar legislation in recent years.
“In states across our nation, including here, we are failing our children by not including everything we can do by ensuring every door of opportunity is open for placement,” said State Sen. William Ligon (R), the bill’s sponsor, as reported by Q Magazine. “There is a difference of opinion on this issue and on the issue of marriage. We are either going to accommodate or subordinate one belief over another.”
Children’s Rights (CR), a nonprofit litigator of child welfare systems, blasted the Senate’s approval of the bill at a time when the state is struggling to recruit enough foster homes in some regions.
“Atlanta is the epicenter of the LGBTQ South, and has many couples that would provide loving forever homes to children in need,” said CR attorney Christina Remain. “I know from years of experience working on the Kenny A. case that our foster care system suffers from a lack of homes. Indeed, we currently have youth sleeping in hotels across the state due to a lack of placements.”
The bill would add Georgia to a growing list of states that have recently moved to shield faith-based child welfare providers from discrimination claims. Seven states have recently enacted such laws: Alabama, North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia, Mississippi, Michigan, and Texas.
All of those laws have taken effect since the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which ruled that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry in America.
Georgia’s overall foster home capacity went up between 2012 and 2017 – from 9,263 beds to 11,590 – according to a recent report by The Chronicle of Social Change. But the state saw a 37 percent increase in new entries to foster care between 2012 and 2015, according to federal data.
“When talking about this issue we often get a response saying we appear to have enough placements available, if you just look at the open beds, when we are really in desperate need of more foster homes in order to keep children in their local communities,” said Susan Boatwright, former communications director for the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, in an e-mail to The Chronicle during research for the report.