Kansas Senate passes bill protecting faith-based adoption agencies

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The Senate chamber of the Kansas Statehouse is pictured July 23, 2014 in Topeka.

? The Kansas Senate gave final passage Thursday to a bill that would guarantee that faith-based adoption agencies will continue to have access to state contracts and grants, even if they refuse to place children in certain homes based on the agency’s religious beliefs.

The so-called Adoption Protection Act was amended into another bill on the Senate floor that updated various aspects of the state’s adoption code.

Among other things, the underlying bill, House Bill 2481 would change some language in the statute dealing with who may adopt in Kansas, replacing the phrase “husband and wife” with “adult married couple,” reflecting the fact that same-sex marriages are now legal throughout the United States.

During floor debate, however, Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, offered an amendment to insert language from Senate Bill 401, which had been supported by Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas and other faith-based adoption agencies.

An identical bill is pending in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Equality Kansas and a number of child welfare advocacy groups openly opposed the bill during committee hearings, with some arguing that it would allow state money to flow to organizations that discriminate against same-sex couples, single adults or even people from another faith.

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, who is a candidate for the 2nd District congressional seat, objected forcefully to that reasoning, saying that the argument itself is a form of discrimination against people of faith.

“It’s amazing how what so recently became toleration is now, excuse me, rank bigotry,” he said during the floor debate. “You can have your religion, but basically keep it over there, keep it quiet. No, you can no longer receive a public benefit in this state, no longer can you do that, because of your religious status.”

Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, however, argued that the amendment doesn’t refer to the religious beliefs of people, but rather of an agency.

“I have been concerned for a number of years about corporations being considered people,” she said. “I don’t believe that they are. And I don’t believe that an agency can have sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Baumgardner’s amendment was slightly different from the original bill in that it would not allow an agency serving as one of the primary contractors with the Department for Children and Families in administering the state’s child welfare system to discriminate.

But it would allow other agencies that subcontract with the state to provide services to “children in need of care” who are in state custody to place children in homes that comply with the agency’s religious beliefs.

Sen. Lynn Rogers, D-Wichita, offered a second amendment to strike that portion of the amendment, but it failed 21-16.

The bill passed on a final action vote Thursday, 28-12. Francisco and Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, both voted no.

During a news conference Thursday, Gov. Jeff Colyer, while saying he does not tolerate discrimination, said he supports the concept of the bill.

“I believe that we need lots of options for kids, for foster kids, for adoptions,” he said. “The more opportunities that we have there, we’re going to make sure that we have them. The bills that are out there right now, we’re going to carefully look at them, but we want to make sure that they preserve the best opportunities for our kids.”