Georgia’s Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle doesn’t want the issue of adoption to turn into a discussion on so-called “religious freedom.”

“I don’t want us to get caught up in a religious liberty debate on the adoption bill,” Cagle told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jim Galloway. “I think that we should obviously take care of the major issue at hand. And that is, we want to expedite kids being able to be adopted in any family, a loving family, a caring family — to where they have a true future.”

The bill in question is House Bill 159, a complete overhaul of Georgia’s adoption code that hit the floor during the 2017 legislative session. On the final day of the session, the Senate version of the bill stalled due to an amendment offered up by state Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick), which offered legal protection to taxpayer-funded child placement groups that used religious grounds to refuse to place children with LGBT couples.

After Ligon’s failed amendment stalled HB 159, Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia) did his best to add the more than 100 pages of the bill to his existing SB 130. The new version of SB 130 hit the floor about midnight on Sine Die, and Ligon appeared flustered that he could not add a similar “religious freedom” amendment to it.

Just before the bill was tabled, Ligon suggested to the Senate that the House had had plenty of time to review the adoption code re-do, but the Senate had not had sufficient opportunity to vet the legislation. Ligon was backed in his motion to recommit SB 130 to committee by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), who agreed that the bill “needs a lot of work on it.”

LGBT rights coalition Georgia Unites Against Discrimination said in March that it was “a travesty first and foremost for Georgia’s children” that neither HB 159 nor SB 130 was headed to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.

Cagle told the AJC he expects the adoption bill to be passed early in the 2018 session.

“I expect the committee to do its job and vet the legislation. I don’t expect the Senate to adopt a bill that they have not vetted,” he said.

Despite his assurance that “religious freedom” won’t crop up in the adoption bill discussion, Cagle made it clear he supports the idea of a “religious liberty” bill, should he be elected governor next November. Cagle joined several other Republican gubernatorial candidates in signing pledges that they would pass such legislation if it appeared on their desks if elected.

Cagle opposed Gov. Deal’s veto of House Bill 757, a discriminatory “religious freedom” bill similar to controversial legislation in North Carolina, in 2016. At the start of the 2017 legislative session, however, Cagle told reporters that “religious freedom” wasn’t on his agenda for the year, though that didn’t stop senators from trying to introduce it.

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