Since the U.S. legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, several states have passed laws allowing publicly funded child welfare organizations to exclude millions of LGBTQ adults as potential foster parents.
This, combined with a Trump administration executive order on religious liberty, is cause for concern over the future of child welfare programs, according to a new policy brief from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
“Children in care need parents. Same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals are eager to become those parents,” said the brief, which was written by State Legislative Director Cathryn Oakley. “In allowing these individuals to be excluded from the pool of prospective parents for discriminatory reasons is harmful to children in care — and leads to taxpayers footing the bill for the consequences of this discrimination.”
In 2017, new bills allowing discrimination based on religious grounds passed in Alabama, South Dakota and Texas, raising the total number of states with laws restricting the rights of LGBTQ foster parents to seven.
The Human Rights Campaign brief “outlines several false assumptions which are often relied upon to justify these bills, and explains that these bills artificially limit the pool of potential foster and adoptive parents at a time when more parents are desperately needed, and that they funnel taxpayer funds to agencies that are perpetuating discrimination.”
Alabama, North Dakota and Virginia all allow child placement agencies to discriminate against potential parents who don’t meet their “religious and moral” standards. Michigan, Mississippi, South Dakota and Texas, go even further, allowing agencies to exclude not only prospective parents, but LGBTQ foster youth, too.
In some of these states, the brief said, adopted children can be denied medical treatment if the placement agency objects to it. The agencies can even force children in their care into “conversion therapy,” a practice intended to “change” someone’s sexual orientation.
“Some of these laws would allow agencies responsible for caring for LGBTQ youth to refer that child to a provider of the abusive and discredited practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy,’ if that was consistent with the agency’s religious beliefs, without the state being able to intervene, cancel the contract, or withdraw support in other ways,” the HRC brief said.
Research shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system and more vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment.
In May, an executive order and associated memorandum from Attorney General Jeff Sessions ensured the right — of individuals, organizations and agencies — “to act or abstain from action” based on their religious beliefs.
HRC argues in its brief that Sessions’ memo constitutes an “implicit authorization for federal employees or federally-funded programs to refuse to provide services to LGBTQ children in crisis, or to refuse to make an adoptive or foster placement with a same-sex couple or transgender parent simply because of who they are.”
Congress will have the opportunity to weigh in, with legislation representing both sides of the issue active in both the House and Senate. The “Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act” would mimic the state laws that allow agencies to deny services or exclude prospective clients based on “religious beliefs and moral convictions.” It would also go further to prevent federal and state governments from prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination.
On the other hand, the “Every Child Deserves a Family Act” would prohibit federally funded child welfare agencies from discriminating against prospective parents based on sexual or gender identity or marital status. It also protects LGBTQ-identified foster youth from discrimination in child welfare. More broadly, the “Equality Act” would protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination in a number of respects, including education and housing, but also adoption and foster processes.
The brief, “Disregarding the Best Interest of the Child: License to Discriminate In Child Welfare Services,” argues that the U.S. needs a bigger pool of prospective foster and adoptive parents and that excluding millions based on their sexual identity does a disservice to the thousands of children in need.
Read the brief here.