By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — Gov. Kay Ivey is considering an executive amendment to a controversial bill passed by the Alabama Legislature this week that would give faith-based adoption agencies the right to deny services to same-sex couples.
Ivey is considering a relatively minor change to the bill, sources close to the governor have told the Alabama Political Reporter. But applying an executive amendment to the bill would send it back to the Legislature for another round of votes, where it could get lost in the chaos as the end of the 2017 legislative session looms.
The House this week gave final passage to the bill, sponsored by Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, that would allow private faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to place children into the homes of same-sex couples if it goes against their religious convictions.
The Senate passed the bill last week with an amendment. With the amendment, HB 24’s protections would not apply to the Alabama Department of Human Resources or agencies that receive state or federal funding.
The bill, which has been proposed three years in a row, would prohibit the State from withholding a license from an adoption or foster agency that denied placement services to same-sex families, or other families, because of the agency’s religious beliefs.
Both previous iterations of the “Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act” failed to pass the Legislature.
Wingo and other supporters of the bill have said the bill is needed to protect faith-based adoption agencies. Opponents say the bill amounts to legalized discrimination, whether it is religious or not, by agencies that are licensed by the State.
Wingo said his bill wasn’t intended to prevent same-sex couples from being able to adopt. They could go to secular adoption agencies for services if they’re refused by faith-based agencies, Wingo said.
“It’s just making sure the faith-based child-placing agencies aren’t discriminated against due to their beliefs,” Wingo said. “It’s not discriminating against anyone else.”
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, has launched a statewide effort to oppose the bill and urge Ivey to veto it.
HRC Alabama State Director Eva Kendrick said the bill is deceptively designed to look like an anti-discrimination bill, but it actually allows agencies to reject qualified LGBTQ foster or adoptive parents.
“Plain and simple — H.B. 24 is discrimination dressed up as a ‘solution’ to a fake problem,” Kendrick said. “It creates an unnecessary hardship for potential LGBTQ adoptive or foster parents in Alabama and primarily harms the children looking for a loving home. It’s unfortunate that leaders continue to push this bill, even as child welfare organizations, faith leaders and fair-minded Alabamians are standing up and calling this bill out for what it is: discrimination.”
The Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization, also opposes the bill and said it allows agencies to ‘discriminate against vulnerable kids and families.’
“This law limits the number of homes available to Alabama’s most vulnerable kids by allowing foster and adoption agencies to turn away parents who don’t fit with the agencies’ religious beliefs, including parents who are unmarried, divorced, Muslim, LGBT, or even Christian,” said SPLC Deputy Legal Director David Dinielli.
Dinielli also urged Ivey to veto the bill and “set the tone for her administration — one that values all of Alabama’s families and children equally.”
“Our legislators should be finding ways to increase, not decrease, the number of safe homes available to foster children,” Dinielli said. “But it seems they would rather pander to prejudice cloaked in religion than protect kids from abuse and neglect.”
The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Sen. Bill Hightower, R-Mobile. Hightower cited examples of agencies being shut down in Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington D.C. after refusing to “violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
“Faith-based organizations in Alabama have a long history of providing orphans and neglected children with placement in new homes, and we need to protect those organizations so they can continue to serve families,” Hightower said.
The bill would essentially prohibit the Alabama Department of Human Resources from withholding state licenses from those agencies. If agencies don’t have a license, they can’t operate.
“The worst thing that could happen would be for religious adoption and foster agencies to shut down – that would be catastrophic for Alabama’s children, not to mention the enormous financial burden it would place on DHR,” Wingo said.
Virginia, North Dakota, South Dakota and Michigan have similar provisions. About 30 percent of Alabama’s adoptions are placed through private, faith-based adoption agencies.
Ivey’s office said Wednesday she had not received the final copy of the bill from the Legislature but would decide whether to issue an executive amendment after the bill goes through legal review. If she does issue an executive amendment, she will have to do it within seven days.
It would need another round of votes to become law, and with several incomplete priorities — including passing both budgets and finalizing a reapportionment plan — the bill could get lost as the Legislature nears the end of its legislative session.
If she signs the bill, it will become law.