Alabama Just Made It Legal to Turn Away Gay Adoptive Parents

A bill that legalizes discriminationáagainst gay adoptive parents on the grounds ofáreligious affiliation has been signed into law in Alabama, sparking outcryáover theárecent influx of license to discriminate bills.

Last week GovernoráKay Ivey signed the law, known as theáAlabama Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act, claimingáthat it intends toáensure the integrity of religious protections:

The elected legislature of this state overwhelmingly approved House Bill 24. Having served as President of the Senate for more than six years, I appreciate the work of the legislature, and I agree with it on the importance of protecting religious liberty in Alabama. I ultimately signed House Bill 24 because it ensures hundreds of children can continue to find ‘forever homes’ through religiously-affiliated adoption agencies. This bill is not about discrimination, but instead protects the ability of religious agencies to place vulnerable children in a permanent home.

The legislation, which sailed through the state legislature with nearly unanimous support from the controlling Republican majority, would prohibit the state from refusing to license or taking adverse action against a child adoption agency if that agency declines to “provide, facilitate, or refer for a placement in a manner that conflicts with, or under circumstances that conflict with, the sincerely held religious beliefs of the child placing agency.”

That means that the state cannot launch any civilárights claims, or other legal actionáagainst a discriminating agency.

It’s important to highlight that the legislation does not apply to state or federally funded agencies, so only those religious outfits that provide adoption services will be able to use this exemption. However, given that such agencies enjoy significant tax breaks for their status — and make up aboutáone third of the adoption services in the state — that is still a significant proportion of available agencies.

What’s more, most adoption services go through state agencies — but there is a catch.

The state uses the term “marriage” to confer joint adoption rights. However, since same-gender marriage was legalized in 2015, some counties have ceased from distributing marriage licenses altogether in order to avoid serving LGBTácouples. That’s left some couples having to travel for miles to get a marriage license.

A similar problem could now befall prospective parents who may only have access to religiously-affiliated agencies in their area. It’s also important to rememberáthat this law is seeking a remedy for a problem that doesn’t exist in Alabama.

There is no evidence of any adoption agency in Alabama actually being “forced” to place a child against its religious conviction. The lawmakers behind the bill cite incidents in places like Colorado, where they contend religious adoption agencies were forced to close their doors because of equality laws. This is disingenuous, however.

The main incident in question occurred whenáCatholic Charities in Illinois refused to comply with state same-gender marriage laws and nondiscrimination laws, using its status as a major adoption agency to try to carve out a loophole in equality law. The courtsárepeatedly blocked Catholic Charities from doing so, and thus, the groupádecided to withdraw its services rather than serve all married couples.

To put it another way, the agency refused to keep helping children because it couldn’t solely serve heterosexual married couples.

Similar laws are on the books in states likeáSouth Dakota, Michigan, North Dakota and Virginia, though it’s unclear how often they are enforced.

Given that marriage is used to confer parental rights, a number of states have attempted to keep hold of their discriminatory attitudes and block same-gender couples from adopting. Clearly, thisáharms the dignity of the couples involved and renders them as second-class citizens. But proving that there has been unconstitutional discrimination has becomeámore difficult as the political right develops more sophisticated strategies inárendering religious license to discriminate bills.

We’ve seen this kind of approach before.áA roughly analogous “creep” of permissible discrimination occurred as states have sought to chip away at abortion rights, too. By bolsteringáreligious rights to refrain from providing services, while tightening regulations and cutting off funding sources, the conservative right has been able to effectively cut off access.

It would not be quite as simple to do soáin the case of same-gender parent adoption rights, but it is undeniable that thisáis a clear attempt to refuse services to minority groups, while restricting services that are still available to them.

What’s doubly disturbing is that the right is once again prepared to use children as pawns in its culture war. With Texas reportedly considering similar legislation, this may not be the last we hear ofáthis sortáof attack on same-gender parents.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Philippa P
Philippa Powers16 days ago


Leanne K
Leanne Kabout a month ago

Lets return to the days of 'just lie'..

Leanne K
Leanne Kabout a month ago

Sure, great parents are lining up! How utterly ridiculous!

Fred C
Fred C1 months ago

Shame on Governor Kay Ivey. Discrimination should not be legalized, period.

Carl R
Carl R1 months ago


Karen H
Karen H1 months ago

Their thinking is, "We'd rather see these kids in orphanages or foster care than in a loving home."

Freya H
Freya H1 months ago

Every time I visit Alabama, I feel as though I need to set my watch back at least 50 years.

Sabrina D
Sabrina D2 months ago

Absolutely true Joan E.

Joan E
Joan E2 months ago

Too many mean, prejudiced, authoritarian people who spend all their time ruining life for other people.

Carl R
Carl R2 months ago