From a May 2018 executive order creating the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, to a Department of Labor directive making it easier for government contractors to use religious freedom to counter discrimination charges, the Trump administration has expanded the power of organizations with and without official religious affiliations to use faith, and taxpayer dollars, to discriminate against others. In many cases, LGBTQ people are the targets.
While to some, access to wedding cakes may seem superficial, these measures are impacting LGBTQ people’s access to other aspects of a normal life. Among them: the ability to adopt a child.
In February 2018, South Carolina governor Henry McMaster requested a waiver from the Department of Health and Human Services that would allow an adoption agency to refuse to allow LGBTQ and non-Christian households to take in children. The Trump administration granted the waiver last month – a move civil rights organizations saw as an ominous precedent.
In response, Shelbi Day, Senior Policy council of Family Equality Council commented, “Allowing child placing agencies to turn away qualified adoptive and foster parents reduces the number of loving families available to the over 4,000 children in South Carolina’s foster care system, and further demonstrates that the Trump administration values a narrow set of religious beliefs over the need to find loving, stable homes for children currently in state care.”
Across the country, similar alliances of religious groups and conservative politicians are working to ensure uphill battles for LGBTQ families trying to adopt. In May, Kansas governor Jeff Colyer signed a bill that legalized faith-based adoption discrimination in the state. The Catholic Church backed the bill, as it has with anti-LGBTQ adoption measures across the country. The bishop of the Diocese of Wichita, Carl Kemme, spoke at the bill’s signing. He cited the church’s history of providing adoption services and suggested that if Catholic organizations were required to serve LGBTQ people, they would no longer be able to help place children in homes.
The founder of FosterAdopt Connect, Lori Ross, commented on the Kansas law with concern that it would place LGBTQ children in households where their identities would be discouraged, an effect scientifically shown to have long-term consequences on mental health.
In Michigan, the state is in a court battle with the American Civil Liberties Union, though the Attorney General Dana Nessel, who is openly gay, is seeking to settle the case.
The legal conflict in the case centers around a 2015 law that allows religiously affiliated adoption agencies to refuse to place children with certain families if it violates their beliefs. The ACLU is arguing that the law does not allow agencies to deny services based on religious convictions and further points to contracts between the state and the agencies that forbid discrimination against same-sex couples in the adoption process. The ACLU claims these provisions are being ignored.
In a taping on WKAR-TV, Michigan Republican Lee Chatfield said the ACLU is advocating for what he calls “reverse discrimination.”
“You’ve seen these laws passed in other states where what happens, in my opinion, is a reverse discrimination against those who have religious beliefs,” Chatfield said.
Georgia has experienced a brush with a like-minded anti-LGBTQ bill that was later stripped of its more controversial discriminatory terms. Entertainment companies invested in Georgia reportedly watched the bill, adding a looming economic threat if the bill passed. This also occurred in the midst of Amazon’s HQ2 decision, another dissuading factor for the state legislature.