LGBTQ kids and families could be frozen out of adoptions by “religious belief” law in South Dakota
There are already too few homes for foster children in South Dakota, and a new state law that permits agencies to prevent LGBTQ parents from adopting likely won’t help.
Signed Friday, the law allows government-funded child-placement agencies that provide foster care or adoption services to decline working with people “under circumstances that conflict with any sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”
The law doesn’t mention the LGBTQ community specifically. However, the Human Rights Campaign called it the first law of 2017 to curtail LGBTQ rights, since agencies could deny people their services because a child identifies as LGBTQ or because prospective parents do.
This means more children may linger in foster care, advocates say.
“If you discriminate against the child or against the families waiting to adopt, you’re… reducing the number of available homes,” said Schylar Baber, executive director of Voice for Adoption, an advocacy organization that opposed the law. “When children age out of a system without permanent connections, it has lifelong consequences.”
About 300 children in South Dakota are currently waiting to be adopted, said Christine James-Brown, CEO of the Child Welfare League of America, which also opposed the law. She said sexual orientation and religion are “irrelevant” if the environment provided by prospective parents is a positive one.
Already-adopted children won’t be removed from families, James-Brown said, but the law could allow agencies to remove children in foster care from prospective parents and place them with other families.
Texas, Alabama, and Oklahoma are all considering passing legislation that could allow people in the foster care system to discriminate against LGBTQ people, according to the ACLU; Michigan already has a similar law on the books. And James-Brown said that she fears the law’s passage in North Dakota could embolden other states to pursue similar laws.
Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, called the law “just the beginning” of “a large wave of anti-LGBTQ efforts” this year.
Several religiously-affiliated child-placement agencies in South Dakota did not respond to requests for comment.