Just weeks after seeing a civil unions bill that he sponsored signed into law, Illinois Democratic Senator Dave Koehler has sponsored an amendment to the civil unions act that would allow state funded religious institutions running adoption services the ability to deny same-sex couples the right to adopt per religious freedom of conscience.
Senate Amendment #1 to Senate Bill 1123, which was introduced late on Monday attached to a proposed amendment to the White Cane Law which provides rights and accommodations for the visually impaired, would permit religiously-based adoption agencies acting on behalf of the State of Illinois (therefore receiving state funds) to discriminate against gay couples in a civil union, effectively rendering them exempt from the state’s human rights act in this regard. The act guarantees equal treatment for citizens regardless of special classifications such as race, sex and sexuality.
The bill says that agencies “may decline an adoption or foster family home application [...] if acceptance of that application would constitute a violation of the organization’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”
As the Bilerico Project notes, the amendment is nearly entirely Democrat sponsored at this stage. As such, LGBT rights supporters are worried the amendment may not be seen as hostile and will stand a greater chance of passing than similar legislation that has been voted down in the past.
From The Huffington Post:
We are very concerned about whether it will pass or not,” Martinez said Tuesday. “Because Sen. [David] Koehler … traditionally is pretty progressive in terms of his legislation and the fact that we have a moderate Democrat who’s also co-sponsoring.. does make it look a little better for the future of the bill, which is not a good thing.”
Sen. Koehler did not immediately return a call for comment, but co-sponsor Sen. William Haine explained the reasoning behind the legislation to HuffPost Chicago Tuesday.
“The civil union bill complicates matters a bit because the civil union bill changes the definition of a spouse,” Sen. Haine said. “So, the Catholic Conference, the Roman Catholic Church and some of the other denominations [with] adoption services, had historically not placed children in households where there’s a couple and they aren’t married. Sexual orientation’s never been brought up.”
Haine said the groups he spoke to, who work with “hard to place” children, want to continue offering adoption and foster care services but do not want to approve applications that are inconsistent with their “right of conscious” and religious beliefs. Traditionally, he said, these organizations place children in married households only.
Unlike the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Haine voted against the original civil unions bill in the Senate because he feared it “would create problems such as this.”
The ACLU has an action running against this amendment, saying it “serves only one purpose … to allow religiously-based adoption agencies acting on behalf of the Department of Children and Family Services to discriminate against couples in a civil union. Sadly, this discrimination would do the most harm to some of our state’s most vulnerable children children who need a loving, permanent home. Whether parents are gay or straight should not matter; what matters is that they are willing to care and love for the children in their custody.”
The ACLU also said that this move is unconstitutional: “The federal equal protection clause bans the government from allowing private agencies to practice discrimination when choosing families for adoptive children. The obligation to license foster parents and to screen adoptive parents is the state’s. When the state delegates part of that duty to a private agency the state remains responsible to make certain that the process is consistent with state and federal law, including the 14th Amendment; religiously affiliated agencies should not be permitted to discriminate, especially when doing so can hurt children by excluding a whole class of loving families.”
It may be this move is in response to the Department of Children and Family Services’ announcement last month that it would investigate whether religious institutions receiving state funds in Illinois could discriminate or whether they must, under the state’s current law, provide services to same-sex couples in civil unions. If voted into law the bill would likely preempt that determination. You can read more on that here.
The amendment will soon move to the senate executive committee and could could come up for a floor vote by the end of the week.
If you live in Illinois and would like to contact your Senator against this amendment, please click here to add your name to the ACLU petition.
UPDATE: An Illinois senate committee voted to kill the amendment on Wednesday. Read more on that here.