Two anti-LGBT bills introduced in Congress

Rep. Mike Kelly and Sen. Tim Scott are sponsoring bills in Congress that would strip states of federal funds if they exclude adoption agencies who discriminate against LGBT couples.

LGBT groups are rallying in opposition to a congressional bill that would prohibit states receiving federal funds from excluding anti-LGBT foster-care and adoption agencies from child-welfare programs.

The “Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act” was introduced March 10 by U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). The bill would significantly reduce federal funding for states that prevent anti-LGBT foster care and adoption agencies from participating in child-welfare programs. Violators could also be sued in federal court and subjected to additional penalties.

Kelly’s bill, known as H.R. 1750, is pending in the House Ways and Means Committee. The Senate version of the bill, known as S. 656, is pending in the Senate Finance Committee.

“Several state and local governments are requiring faith-based adoption agencies to choose between helping kids and violating their religious faith,” said Kelly, in a news release. “This blatant attack on the First Amendment makes it even harder for children to find loving homes. By passing this legislation, Congress can stand up for kids and defend religious liberty.”

Scott echoed Kelly’s sentiments. “In South Carolina and across the country, faith-based foster care providers support the 400,000 children in our foster care system who — through no fault of their own — have nowhere else to go,” Scott said, in a press release. “At a time when religious freedoms are under assault, the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act is a necessary protection for those who are living according to their convictions. I am grateful my colleagues are standing with me to protect this most fundamental right.”

The issue of publicly-funded anti-LGBT child-welfare agencies is expected to be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Fulton vs. City of Philadelphia. Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia wants the high court to order the city to continue funding CSS’ foster-placement program, even though CSS won’t help certify same-sex couples as foster parents. A decision is expected within the next several weeks. 

Lauren Cox, a spokesperson for the Kenney administration, expressed disagreement with HR 1750.

“Our administration strongly disagrees with this proposed legislation, and we hope it does not advance in either chamber of Congress,” Cox said, in an email. “It requires the city Department of Human Services to permit foster care providers to refuse to work with same-sex couples. This legislation interferes with and ignores our judgment — as well of the judgment of agencies in many other jurisdictions — that equal treatment of all prospective foster parents is in the best interests of the children with whose care we are entrusted.”  

GLAAD lambasted the proposed legislation. “This bill is out of step with the majority of Americans who believe LGBTQ people should not be discriminated against,” GLAAD said, in a statement. “Research shows that LGBTQ people provide the same love and protection for children as any other parent, and discriminating against qualified couples only hurts the children who could benefit from a loving home. Religious-based agencies, including one in Philadelphia [Bethany Christian Services], have already determined that they can serve LGBTQ families — and that doing so does not conflict with their beliefs. Those who wish to avoid laws protecting people from discrimination are entitled to their religious beliefs. But they are not entitled to secular, taxpayer funds and contracts. LGBTQ people, like all law-abiding citizens, pay their taxes. And they should not have to also fund agencies that discriminate against them, as this law apparently wishes [them] to do.”

Adrian Shanker, executive director of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, berated Kelly. “In the midst of a global pandemic, and at a time when there are serious concerns facing our country, it is both shameful and embarrassing that one of Pennsylvania’s members of Congress is laser-focused on finding new and creative ways to harm LGBTQ people,” Shanker said, in an email. “[Kelly’s] intention with this bill is to provide a license to discriminate at a time when LGBTQ families are already so vulnerable.”

Nesta N. Johnson, staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, expressed opposition to HR 1750. “Bias against families living in poverty, LGBT people, and people of color is pervasive in the child welfare system,” Johnson said, in an email. “This bill limits the abilities of states to address this discrimination and to improve the safety and security of children. This bill would prohibit states from requiring that licensed child welfare providers serve all parents, children, foster parents, and prospective adoptive parents without discriminating.  Child welfare agencies provide vital services to potential adoptive or foster parents, biological parents who have been separated from their children, and children and youth in the system — all of whom deserve equal treatment and respect. The best result for children is when they can safely remain with their families of origin. And too many families are needlessly separated instead of being given the support they need. But when children have been separated from their families, they need safe, qualified foster homes. And policies that reduce the number of qualified foster parents harm children.” 

M. Currey Cook, an attorney at Lambda Legal, also took issue with HR 1750. “Lambda Legal emphatically opposes the bill,” Cook told PGN. “We can’t have providers dictating to the government the terms of child-welfare contracts. LGBTQ children are disproportionately overrepresented in the child-welfare system. They deserve to have affirming and supportive care. Any law or policy that allows discrimination within the child-welfare system harms children. And any policy that allows government funds to go to an agency that discriminates against LGBTQ people sends a message to LGBTQ youth — and all youth in the system — that LGBTQ people are second-class citizens and, in this case, not suitable parents.”

Maggie Garrett, vice president for public policy at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, also castigated the bill. “Our lawmakers’ first priority should be protecting vulnerable children in the foster care system and ensuring every effort is made to find them safe homes with loving families,” Garrett said, in an email. “Rep. Kelly’s bill does the opposite: It would allow a taxpayer-funded foster care agency to turn away qualified parents because they can’t pass its religious litmus test – [thus] denying children loving homes. Agencies could deny qualified parents because they are LGBTQ and even refuse to provide LGBTQ children with vital services. Religious freedom is a shield that protects all of our rights, not a sword used to harm people. Passing this bill would harm children and families.”

Preston Heldibridle, state policy associate at Pennsylvania Youth Congress, issued this statement: “This bill would allow taxpayer dollars to fund discrimination and trample over statewide nondiscrimination statutes. The language of the bill is extremely broad, allowing for agencies to act according to their ‘religious beliefs or moral convictions.’ This could refer to turning away potential foster or adoptive parents who are LGBTQ+, unmarried, or of a different religion, as well as discriminating against youth in foster care who are LGBTQ+ or of a different faith. Over 20,000 youth aged out of foster care without finding a permanent home in 2019. Placement is a heightened obstacle in particular for LGBTQ+ youth in foster care, who are overrepresented in the system to begin with. LGBTQ+ youth commonly shunted from placement to placement, are more likely to be placed in group homes, face heightened rates of violence and abuse while in out-of-home care, and are less likely than their peers to find a permanent home. In the face of these tragic realities, funneling public money to service providers that would discriminate against foster youth of certain identities and deny prospective adoptive or foster parents who could provide stable, loving homes is impractical to the point of absurdity. All children deserve to be nurtured and provided for. And this proposed legislation does not prioritize the needs of youth in foster care.”

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, the Keystone Press and the Pennsylvania Press Club.