A new bill in Texas could spell the end of adoption for Jews, LGBTQ parents, Muslims and other marginalized groups by giving biological parents and agencies the right to deny adoption based on their beliefs. Heavily related to the recent suggested religious freedom changes, the bill aims to preserve a parent’s right to choose how their child is raised when adopting them out.
Supporters of the bill say that it isn’t discriminatory in nature, but that it instead supports the parent’s right to religious freedom. Those who condemn the bill slam it as anti-semitic, homophobic, and racist. They believe that the move is little more than a ploy to prevent adoptions by anyone but Christian parents.
The bill mostly targets faith-based adoption agencies, including churches and right-to-life organizations. It not only makes allowances for refusing to adopt out or foster children to marginalized parents, but also provides a loophole for faith-based organizations that don’t want to place or work with children whose parents are from certain marginalized groups.
If enacted, faith-based organizations could effectively refuse to place a child born to an LGBTQ, Jewish, or Muslim mother — something that child advocates are saying will put thousands of children in harm’s way.
Adoption attorney Suzanne Bryant outlined exactly how and why that might be harmful to children and families.
“Say you call an agency and say, ‘I’m Jewish,’ and it’s a Catholic agency and they hang up on you,” she said. “The bill says you can be referred to another agency, but there’s no mechanism to set that up.”
She continued by explaining that the new bill also gives foster homes, group homes and adoptive families the right to force children to conform to their beliefs. This includes sending LGBTQ children to gay conversion therapy or forcing them to attend church and worship sessions.
Bryant also painted a clear picture of the dangers this could present to teenagers.
“If a 17-year-old who is sexually active wants birth control, the burden to prove that constitutional right is on the child. They don’t have their parents advocating for them and are supposed to go it alone against the system.”
Texas, much like every other state in America, struggles to find placements for children in foster care each year. Child abuse and fatalities in foster care are still a problem in the state, and despite repeated bailouts to Child Protective Services, many children continue to experience instability and harm while under the care of the state.
Reports highlight a severe lack of foster homes and adopting parents in Texas, with some children sleeping in CPS offices because they have nowhere to go. The most recent report, released by the DFPS in early 2017, shows that need outpaces availability intensely in almost every county throughout the state.
Research shows that when the demand for homes is higher than the availability, children slip through the cracks. States may instead house them in residential facilities that do very little to address their needs. Very, often, these children age out of the system at age 18 with little to no support.
NPR states that foster children who age out of care with no support often go on to struggle all throughout their adult lives. Up to 25 percent experience at least one bout of homelessness, while 75 percent experience an early pregnancy before they’re ready to start a family. As many as 80 percent of all males who age out of care or experience instability early in life go on to be arrested or charged with a crime. Similarly, only approximately 6 percent of all children go on to achieve a secondary education after life in care.
Catherine Oakley, senior legislative council for the Human Rights Campaign, believes that the new bill isn’t just harmful to the struggling system in Texas — she believes it goes against the constitution, too.
“As a governmental entity, Texas is bound to treat people equally under the law. This is a violation of equal protection under the law.”
State representative James Frank disagrees.
“Everyone is welcome. But you don’t have to think alike to participate,” he clarified, encouraging people to focus on the fact that the bill was designed to be inclusive rather than reclusive.
LGBTQ supporters say that the bill is just one of 24 discriminatory bills being introduced to the legislature this month. Whether or not these bills make it through to approval is still up for debate.