Opponents turn out against Kansas faith-based adoption bill
photo by: Peter Hancock
Topeka ? Child welfare advocates and a leading gay rights organization spoke out Wednesday against a bill that would protect faith-based adoption agencies from being denied state contracts or grants if they refuse to place children with certain families based on the groups’ “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
“Taxpayer dollars should not be used to discriminate against other taxpayers,” Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, a gay rights advocacy group, told a House committee considering the bill.
They provide that no child placement agency would be required to place any child in a foster home or adoptive home if such a placement would violate the agency’s religious beliefs.
Supporters of the bills argued Tuesday that the proposed law is intended to pre-empt activity they’ve seen in other states where private, religiously affiliated agencies are being sued or have lost their state licenses because they refuse to place children in homes other than those that include married, heterosexual couples.
For example, they noted that the American Civil Liberties Union had recently sued the state of Michigan for allowing child placement agencies contracting with the state to reject qualified same-sex couples based on the agencies’ religious beliefs.
And in 2011, the state of Illinois refused to renew foster care and adoption licenses for Catholic Charities of Illinois, which refused to place children in the homes of people in civil unions.
Witt, however, noted that Kansas has a unique child welfare system compared with other states because all child placements in the state are managed by private nonprofit agencies working on contract with the state.
photo by: Peter Hancock
And while the bill would not apply “to any entity that has an existing contract” with the Department for Children and Families, Witt noted that the existing contracts all expire within the next year, meaning that if the bill becomes law, it could apply to the next set of contracts.
Other groups testifying against the bill included the Kansas Bar Association, the Child Welfare League of America, the state association of court appointed special advocates and the Kansas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
There was also testimony from a number of same-sex couples who have been foster parents or have adopted children, including Jeff Antoniewicz who, with his husband, David (no last name provided), adopted three boys who had been in numerous foster homes prior to their adoption.
“Ours was a perfect match and one that might not have been possible had an agency been allowed to discriminate against us for being a same-sex couple,” Antoniewicz said in written testimony.
Wyandotte County District Court Judge Kathleen Lynch said passage of the bill would discourage otherwise qualified people from seeking to adopt children in Kansas.
“I am concerned that if this bill becomes law there will be a chilling effect, and those individuals and couples who may be inclined to consider adoption will not do so,” she said in written testimony. “The chilling effect will result in more children coming into the foster care system The message that needs to be sent is that Kansas is open to all individuals and couples who wish to provide a loving home to children.”
Meanwhile, Witt responded directly to statements made Tuesday by supporters of the bill who argued that opponents were trying to shut down faith-based child welfare agencies.
“We actually are glad for their work,” Witt said. “We did not bring this bill. This is not us trying to shut anybody down. We’re opposed because the point of this bill is to use taxpayer dollars that I pay (and others pay). They’re going to use our money to discriminate against our families.”
Several members of the committee also expressed concern about the provision of the bill that says those faith-based agencies that discriminate could not be denied contracts or grants from the state, and Witt said he would drop his opposition to the bill if that provision were eliminated.
Neither the House nor Senate committee has taken action on the bill so far. But the Federal and State Affairs Committees are exempt from legislative deadlines, which means they could take action at any point during the remainder of the session.