Kansas advocacy groups gear up for battle over adoption bill
photo by: Peter Hancock
Topeka ? As the Kansas Legislature returned for the first day of a nine-day wrap-up session Thursday, gay rights groups and child welfare advocates began gearing up for what they expect to be a major fight over a controversial bill dealing with adoption
At issue is a bill that would guarantee that faith-based child welfare agencies would continue to have access to state contracts and grants, even if they refuse to place children in homes that do not reflect their sincerely held religious beliefs.
House Bill 2481, which would create the “Adoption Protection Act,” is strongly supported by a number of faith-based organizations, including Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas.
photo by: Peter Hancock
But the bill is also sparking strong opposition from both state and national gay rights and civil rights advocates.
Chad Griffith, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., said during a Statehouse news conference Thursday that the bill is “rooted in nothing more than discrimination and bigotry,” and said that it would, “with animus, grant a license to discriminate to child welfare organizations that are providing services paid for with taxpayer dollars.”
“If this bill were to become law, qualified Kansans, including those who are LGBTQ, could unconscionably be turned away from caring for a child in need,” he added.
Lori Ross, president and CEO of Foster Care Connect, a foster care placement agency that operates in Kansas and Missouri, said the bill could also result in discrimination against LGBT children, whom she said often face violence and abuse in state foster care systems.
After telling the story of one 11-year-old boy she had worked with who committed suicide while struggling with gender identity, Ross said, “From that moment on, I have become a passionate advocate for the needs of children in the foster care system.”
Supporters of the bill, however, argued during committee hearings that in other states, faith-based agencies have faced legal and administrative actions that have effectively put them out of business.
In Illinois, for example, Catholic Charities lost its state contract to provide foster care and adoption services in 2011, shortly after that state passed a law recognizing civil unions between same-sex couples.
When the bill passed out of the House in its original form Feb. 22, it merely made some technical changes to the state’s current adoption law, and it passed, 117-0.
On the Senate floor, however, Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, offered an amendment to insert the contents of the Adoption Protection Act, which had not yet passed out of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee.
An identical bill was also pending in a House committee, where it faced bipartisan opposition because of its guarantee that those agencies could receive state contracts and grants.
Baumgardner’s amendment passed in the Senate, 24-14, and the bill was sent back to the House. A motion there to concur with the Senate failed, 58-64, and the bill was eventually sent to a conference committee, where it has remained since April 2.
Since then, though, House members have come under increasing pressure to reconsider their vote and send the bill on to Gov. Jeff Colyer, who has expressed his support for it.
Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said the bill is just the latest in a series of “religious freedom” bills that Kansas lawmakers have considered over the last decade.
“And they are all targeted at allowing government officials and people in business that serve the public to deny service to LGBT Kansans, and to have that written into law here in this state,” he said during the news conference.
A motion to concur with the Senate, even as the bill sits in a conference committee, could be made at any time on the floor of the House.