Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee urged to move forward with adoption bill sans anti-LGBT amendment

Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) wants his 100-page House Bill 159 to pass — without Sen. William Ligon’s (R-Brunswick) discriminatory amendments added last week.

“This is a different policy argument,” Reeves told the Senate Judiciary Committee this evening. “I ask of you to consider this as a separate form of legislation … just as I’ve done [HB 159] so that this can continue forward and Georgians can be benefitted, and this discussion can be had another day.”

Ligon’s amendments were seen by many as anti-LGBT and discriminatory. The bill’s original intention was to “substantially revise” Georgia’s adoption policy.

HB 159 passed the House on Feb. 24. On March 16, the amended HB 159 was passed by the Senate, despite a motion to strike Ligon’s additions by Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta). Gov. Nathan Deal spoke out against the discriminatory changes, as did Reeves, members of Atlanta’s business community and LGBT rights advocates. The bill went back to the Senate Judiciary Committee days later, after Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) said the bill was “too extreme” and needed more work.

Ligon’s amendment says “a child-placing agency may decide not to accept a referral for foster care or adoption services under a contract with the department based on the child-placing agency’s mission as evidenced by its written policy, statement or other document.” His additions also say that the department “shall not take any adverse action” against a child-placing agency that denies a referral based on its mission.

This provision would allow private adoption agencies that receive state funding the ability to refuse to place children with LGBT couples, said Jeff Graham of Georgia Unites. In a statement to Georgia Unites supporters, he called the amendment “a shameful act of political maneuvering” and “despicable.”

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia indicated the amended HB 159 could discriminate not only against LGBT couples, but those who are interfaith, divorced or anything else that could potentially go against an adoption agency’s “mission.”

“It’s a sad day when a bill that was supposed to be about helping foster kids gets turned into a vehicle for state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT Georgians,” Executive Director Andrea Young said in a statement. “We are encouraged by the growing number of leaders from both parties, including Gov. Nathan Deal, who are speaking out against this discriminatory provision that would make it harder for foster children to find forever homes.”

Graham said it was hard to believe Georgia’s Legislature was once again at the end of a session with a group of senators attempt to “rush through a discriminatory bill” despite so much opposition at the state level.

Ligon said he believed the amendment was not discriminatory at face value, and said it was necessary to protect faith-based adoption agencies, some of which closed in other states after they were asked to go against their mission statements. Just as his dissenters, Ligon urged the committee to consider the children as they looked at how to go forward with HB 159.

Several representatives of Georgia’s faith communities were present and spoke at the hearing, sharing the sentiments many already spoke after the amendments were introduced.

“Lawmakers have a responsibility to their constituents, and a responsibility to do what’s best fro this state. It’s clear that some lawmakers value anti-LGBT discrimination more than anything else,” Graham said in his statement..