House Republicans passed an amendment out of committee Wednesday that would protect adoption agencies that refuse services — such as turning away gay couples — based on their religious beliefs, putting the measure over an initial hurdle in Congress and bringing a state-level strategy to the national stage.
The House Appropriations Committee advanced the amendment, introduced by Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt, that says adoption agencies declining a child welfare service based on “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” could not be punished.
Specifically, agencies that reject applicants, including gay couples and divorcées, based on religious objections, could not be denied federal funding. Nor could a state deny funding to agencies if it receives federal funding for child welfare services under the Social Security Act.
Further, the measure would punish LGBT-friendly states. The Department of Health and Human Services would withhold 15% of its annual adoption dispersals from states that don’t meet the same standards for protecting religious adoption groups. States could lose federal adoption funds, for instance, if they ban anti-LGBT discrimination — thereby tilting federal adoption funding toward states that allow religious recusals.
The amendment could have a strategic advantage. It will next be voted on by the full House of Representatives along with other critical elements of the federal budget, related to health, education, and labor priorities, rather than as a stand-alone bill. Opponents would need to vote against the entire package to kill the amendment.
But Democrats, who opposed the bill, and moderate Republicans could still jettison the measure. The House Rules Committee could nix the language, or potentially more likely, it could be killed on the House floor or rejected by the Senate.
Aderholt celebrated his victory on Twitter:
The Alabama Republican added in a statement that “several states and localities across the country are not allowing religious organizations, such as Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services, to operate child welfare agencies. The reason for this is simply because these organizations, based on religious conviction, choose not to place children with same-sex couples.”
“As co-chairman of the House Coalition on Adoption, my goal was straightforward: to encourage states to include all experienced and licensed child welfare agencies so that children are placed in caring, loving homes where they can thrive. We need more support for these families and children in crisis, not less.”
Rep. Mark Pocan, a gay Wisconsin Democrat, spoke against the bill during the committee markup Wednesday. “I would defy anyone to say I wouldn’t be a good adoptive parent, but this amendment would allow someone who doesn’t know me to say that based on the fact that it is my husband’s birthday today,” he said.
State legislatures controlled by Republicans have led the push for religious freedom laws, reaching a boil over a sweeping Mississippi law and a dispute at the Supreme Court over a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.
Most recently, Kansas Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer signed a law that allows taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to reject applicants, including gay couples and divorcées, based on their religious objections. A week before that, Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed a nearly identical law.
Those laws reflect a November 2015 measure passed in Michigan, which Kristy and Dana Dumont sued over in federal court last fall because a publicly funded Catholic adoption agency allegedly refused to serve them for being gay.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi vowed to fight the amendment in a statement Wednesday, saying “Republicans’ moral bankruptcy reached a sickening new low today.” She said that the measure was an attempt “to sacrifice the well-being of little children to push a bigoted, anti-LGBTQ agenda, potentially denying tens of thousands of vulnerable children the opportunity to find a loving and safe home.”
“House Democrats will fight this disgusting, deeply immoral and profoundly offensive effort with all our strength,” she said.