Florida senate panel derails discriminatory adoption bill

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida Senate panel on Monday declined to vote on a controversial proposal that would allow taxpayer-supported adoption agencies to use religious or moral beliefs to discriminate against prospective parents.

Members of the Senate’s Rules Committee, the only Senate committee to hear the bill, expressed concerns over several unanswered questions, such as whether it might be unconstitutional or put federal child welfare funding at risk.

After more than 90 minutes of discussion and testimony, the committee voted to “temporarily postpone” the bill, a procedural move that means it likely will not come up again this legislative session.

On April 9, the House of Representatives approved HB 7111, motivated by the pending repeal of Florida’s ban on gay or lesbian adoptions, which has gone unenforced since 2010 after an appeals court rule it unconstitutional. Two religiously affiliated adoption agencies said they don’t believe in placing children with gay or lesbian parents.

But the hastily written bill was so broad that it would allow agencies to turn away prospective parents for any reason, including marital status, religion or race, so long as the agency said in writing it was doing so out of religious or moral conviction, according to Equality Florida, a statewide LGBT advocacy group.

Last week a group of Florida and national child welfare advocates urged senators to reject the bill, saying it would make adoptions more difficult by placing new obstacles in the way of otherwise qualified prospective parents.

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If adoption agencies are allowed to discriminate, adoption attorney Maria Bates said, “we’re going to have less and less families when in fact we need a lot more families to adopt these kids and to be a support for them.”

Bates herself is an adoptive mother of three.

Critics also compared the bill to Indiana’s “religious exemption” law, which drew such nationwide scorn that Indiana’s governor was forced to rescind it this spring.

Florida’s proposal was even worse, several speakers said at Monday’s hearing, because it involved agencies receiving public funds — Florida pays private agencies to handle all its foster care adoptions.

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