Oklahoma Senate Passes Faith-Based Protection Bill

The Oklahoma State Senate has passed a bill to enable faith-based child welfare providers to discriminate against LGBTQ couples, and perhaps even children in the system.

Senate Bill 1140 is authored by State Sen. Greg Treat (R), who is the majority floor leader. Advocates heard rumblings last week that it would soon be up for a vote, and it now heads to the Oklahoma House for a vote there.

The bill would shield faith-based providers from any adverse action by the state child welfare agency for refusing to participate in a placement “that violates the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.”

The language permits such private providers to pass on recruiting or training LGBTQ couples, unmarried people or those of different faiths to serve as foster and adoptive parents. But it also appears to allow providers to refuse placements of youth referred to them by the public child welfare agency.

How that works is a bit murky. While it might be clear that hopeful adoptive parents are gay, this would only be the case for a youth who volunteered this information to the provider.

The state has dramatically increased the number of foster homes available for placements in recent years, in part through the launching of the Oklahoma Fosters initiative in 2015. The state had a non-relative foster bed capacity of 2,310 in 2012. That had risen to 5,612 by 2017.

David Hall, a foster youth advocate and student at Oklahoma City University, said that the state’s Catholic Charities affiliates have been the central lobbyists for the bill.

“When we started Oklahoma Fosters, Catholic Charities chose not to be involved in that,” he said. “Now they want to be involved by having this bill.”

With this law, Oklahoma would join a growing list of states that have passed such legislation since 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v Hodges that same-sex marriage was legal in all states. Seven states have recently enacted such laws: Alabama, North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia, Mississippi, Michigan and Texas.

Georgia’s Senate passed a bill very close to the one in Oklahoma in late February. A lawsuit was filed late last month against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for permitting similar discrimination by its faith-based providers for a foster care program helping refugee children.

The Oklahoma law, if passed, would take effect in November of 2018.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1128 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.