Kansas House: Adoption agencies can refuse LGBT couples based on religious belief | The Wichita Eagle

Kansas House: Adoption agencies can refuse LGBT couples based on religious belief | The Wichita Eagle

The Kansas House has approved a bill that would ensure adoption agencies can turn away gay and lesbian couples if adopting to them would run counter to the organization’s religious beliefs.

After a sharp debate over whether the legislation amounts to discrimination or simply an effort to protect faith-based groups, lawmakers voted 63-58 on Thursday night to pass the bill.

It now heads to the Senate. Lawmakers gave the measure new life on Thursday — the second to last day of the legislative session — after the bill had been dormant in prior weeks.

The legislation is one of several adoption-oriented bills that states across the nation that have passed or are considering. Oklahoma lawmakers approved similar legislation on Thursday.

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Opponents call the Kansas legislation discriminatory. The bill says the Kansas Department for Children and Families cannot block any foster or adoption agency from participating in its programs solely because it refuses to adopt or place children with LGBT individuals.

“When they start picking and choosing, that’s called discrimination. Simple and easy. Read it in the dictionary," Rep. Cindy Neighbor, D-Shawnee, said.

Supporters counter that organizations can already refuse placements based on religious beliefs. They say the legislation only ensures that adoption agencies continue to have that ability.

They point to steps taken in other states that they say prevent adoption agencies from following their religious beliefs.

“I would like to assure you something that is discriminatory is not the intention of this bill,” said Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita.

The bill doesn’t apply to organizations that contract directly with DCF, allowing DCF to prohibit discrimination in placements. Agencies that refuse to place children with LGBT couples can continue to receive reimbursement from the state if they are making placements on behalf of a DCF contractor.

The final House vote came after hours of procedural maneuvering as the clock ticked down toward the end of session on Friday. As day turned into night, it became clear the bill would be one of the last major pieces of legislation lawmakers take up before adjourning.

“A shell game is being played,” said Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita.

When lawmakers finally attempted to begin debate on Thursday night, they had to wait because of a rule that requires legislation to sit on their desks for at least 30 minutes before debate. Bagpipes, playing “Amazing Grace” to practice for a ceremony, echoed throughout the Statehouse in the minutes leading up to the debate. A thunderstorm raged outside.

“This vampire just won’t die this session,” Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, said earlier in the day.

Haley worries the bill will contribute to a negative perception of Kansas. Many say the bill is a “regressive, discriminatory” measure, he said. While he said he respects the opinion of those who disagree, he noted that even the perception that the bill is discriminatory could have negative consequences.

A network of companies that includes Apple, Google, Amazon and other tech firms sent a letter to Republican leaders opposing the bill. The letter, sent by the group TechNet, raised concerns the bill will hamper the state’s ability to attract and retain workers.

But supporters dismissed concerns the bill would harm business in Kansas. They pointed to Virginia, which has had a law in place for years, to argue that Kansas won’t face harmful consequences. They say the bill will protect religious-based adoption agencies from restrictions that have been placed on them in other states.

"We’ve already heard that there are adoption agencies that have had to close their doors in other states because they’re being forced to try to go against their religious doctrine," Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, said.

The Kansas Catholic Conference, the voice of the Kansas Catholic Church on public policy, has urged people to write their representatives in support of the legislation. If they were required to place children with same-sex couples, Catholic Charities in Kansas would likely stop offering adoption services, Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the conference, has said.

Humphries said the bill doesn’t give adoption and foster agencies any extra rights but only places in law what the agencies are currently doing. The intention of the legislation is to have as many agencies operating in Kansas as possible, she said.

The Department for Children and Families has supported the legislation for the same reason. The agency has said that the bill would provide an opportunity for some organizations that have had concerns in the past to work with DCF.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley, D-Merriam, said DCF has told him that it has been approached by organizations outside Kansas that would operate in the state if the bill is passed into law. Ousley said DCF didn’t name the organizations.

DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel has promised that the agency will not discriminate. In years past, the agency faces allegations that it discriminated LGBT couples.

Contributing: Katherine Burgess of The Eagle

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