Tennessee Passes Bill Rolling Back Same-Sex Adoption Rights

If signed into law, adoption agencies in the state could be protected from suits if they refuse to place a child based on "religious or moral" beliefs.

In a kickoff to their 2020 legislative session, Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday that gives adoption agencies the right to discriminate against same-sex couples.

The bill was passed by the House last year and by the state Senate on Tuesday. It now goes to the desk of Republican Gov. Bill Lee. If he signs it, licensed adoption agencies in the state will be allowed to refuse a child placement if doing so would “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” While some agencies reportedly already do that, the proposed law would offer them legal protections if hopeful adoptive parents decide to sue.

The bill also applies to agencies placing children in foster homes.

State Sen. Paul Rose (R), the bill’s sponsor, said at Tuesday’s vote that the bill wouldn’t have any effect on “traditional” families.

“This bill does not restrict any rights to place a child with a family, what I would consider a traditional family, mother and father,” he said, noting that he was concerned that agencies would have had to shut down because of their religious objections.

Major civil rights groups have come out against the bill, arguing that adoption agencies are taxpayer-funded. The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is urging people to write to their state senators saying that the bill is not only discriminatory but also untenable for the thousands of children in foster care in the state waiting to be adopted.

Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, issued a statement calling on Lee, who has refused to comment on the issue, to veto the legislation.

“Despite a vigorous debate on the bill, the best interests of children in Tennessee lost today.”

- Chris Sanders, Tennessee Equality Project

“Passing a bill that funds discrimination in adoption and foster care is one of the worst ways to start a legislative session,” he said. “Despite a vigorous debate on the bill, the best interests of children in Tennessee lost today. We join friends and allies across the country in calling for the governor to veto the bill.”

The bill passed 20-6 in the state Senate on Tuesday. State Sen. Steve Dickerson was among the few Republican lawmakers who objected, citing concerns about people and businesses boycotting the state. The NFL, NCAA and NHL are all considering hosting large events in Tennessee soon, he noted.

“I think we can probably kiss that goodbye,” he said of those opportunities.

Last year, many entertainment figures vowed to boycott projects in Georgia, a popular filming location, after the state adopted extremely strict limits on abortion rights.

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