Alabama Just Made It Legal to Turn Away Gay Adoptive Parents

A bill that legalizes discrimination against gay adoptive parents on the grounds of religious affiliation has been signed into law in Alabama, sparking outcry over the recent influx of license to discriminate bills.

Last week Governor Kay Ivey signed the law, known as the Alabama Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act, claiming that it intends to ensure 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 civil rights claims, or other legal action against 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 about one 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 LGBT couples. 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 remember that 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 when Catholic 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 courts repeatedly blocked Catholic Charities from doing so, and thus, the group decided 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 like South 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, this harms the dignity of the couples involved and renders them as second-class citizens. But proving that there has been unconstitutional discrimination has become more difficult as the political right develops more sophisticated strategies in rendering religious license to discriminate bills.

We’ve seen this kind of approach before. A roughly analogous “creep” of permissible discrimination occurred as states have sought to chip away at abortion rights, too. By bolstering religious 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 so in the case of same-gender parent adoption rights, but it is undeniable that this is 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 of this sort of attack on same-gender parents.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Philippa P
Philippa P2 months ago


Leanne K
Leanne K3 months ago

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

Leanne K
Leanne K3 months ago

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

Fred C
Fred C3 months ago

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

Carl R
Carl R3 months ago


Karen H
Karen H3 months ago

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

Freya H
Freya H3 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 D4 months ago

Absolutely true Joan E.

Joan E
Joan E4 months ago

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

Carl R
Carl R4 months ago