The governor of Texas has added his state to the list of those that allow child placement agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ, Jewish, Muslim, single, divorced, or other prospective parents based on the agency’s “sincerely held religious beliefs.” This will serve to limit the number of homes available to children in need. The new law will also permit LGBTQ youth to be sent to widely discredited “conversion therapy” and allow agencies to refuse to refer people to medically appropriate reproductive health services.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R) yesterday signed the bill, which says that state government agencies “may not discriminate or take any adverse action” against child welfare services providers if the providers refuse to facilitate or refer a person to child welfare services that “conflict with, or under circumstances that conflict with, the provider ’s sincerely held religious beliefs.” That means child placement agencies could refuse to place children with otherwise qualified LGBTQ parents, single or divorced parents, or parents of a particular religion (or lack thereof). With most of the religiously based adoption agencies in Texas being Christian, this means they could refuse to place children (even older ones who identify with a particular belief system already) with Jewish, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, or other non-Christian families, or with Christian families of a different denomination.
Alabama, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Virginia already have such laws in place; Oklahoma is considering them.
The Texas bill goes further than the others, however, also saying that the state may not take action against a provider if it “provides or intends to provide children” under its control”with a religious education, including through placing the children in a private or parochial school or otherwise providing a religious education in accordance with the laws of this state.” While religious education is not necessarily a bad thing, some fear it could be used to force LGBTQ youth into religiously based “conversion therapy.” Additionally, I wonder about the impact this could have on older children who have been raised in one religion. Would there be anything to stop them being placed with a family of that wishes to force them into the religious education of another religion?
The Texas bill also requires that the state not take action against any child welfare agency that “has declined or will decline to provide, facilitate, or refer a person for abortions, contraceptives, or drugs, devices, or services that are potentially abortion-inducing.” That means, among other things, that a teen in foster care could be stopped from accessing contraception or other needed care.
For more on the potential harm of this new law, see this piece by native Texan Kristopher Sharp, who was a foster child and homeless youth. He later worked as a legislative aide for Texas Senator Patty Murray and was a congressional fellow for the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus in the U.S House—but he was one of the lucky ones.
This isn’t the only nasty piece of legislation that could come from Texas before the summer is out. The governor has called a special session of the legislature, starting July 18, that will debate a bill to require students to use the bathroom and locker facilities of their assigned sex at birth—which would have a huge negative impact on transgender and gender nonconforming children and teens. The session will also include several anti-choice measures that would limit uterus-bearing people’s control over their reproductive health.
In March, when I spoke about various states’ adoption discrimination laws with Emily Hecht-McGowan, then-chief policy officer of Family Equality Council, she spoke of the need for “public outrage” to stop them. Clearly, we need to keep the outrage boiling.