House Bill 3859 (HB 3859) passed the Texas House of Representatives today.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. James Frank, says it is created to encourage more people of all faiths and sexual orientations to adopt or take in foster children.
Many religious adoption agencies say they don't work with adoptive parents who are gay, non-Christian or unmarried.
"In addition, this discriminatory bill purports to "solve" this issue of those children and prospective parents denied placement and participation for so-called religious reasons through the creation of a separate foster care system".
"The goal is not to exclude or deny services", said state Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), who also authored the bill, "it is to help as many people as possible to participate in services in a way that respects all points of view". "Unfortunately, the ability of numerous faith-based institutions to continue offering services is threatened by the prospect of litigation for declining to provide certain services (such as abortion) because of sincerely held religious beliefs", Frank wrote.
The bill will now go to the State Senate for a vote.
Another Austin Democrat, Donna Howard, asked Frank if there was a provision in the bill requiring adoption agencies to report when they invoke their "sincerely held religious beliefs"; he said there wasn't and that state lawmakers would be better notified of those decisions by their constituents than any kind of report. They say LGBT couples will be able to find agencies without religious objections. And they could deny young people contraception and abortions.
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The bill is similar to HB 3864, which failed to pass during the state's 2015 legislative session.
Faith-based adoption agencies in the state include Christian Homes & Family Services, Generations Adoptions, Buckner International, ChristianWorks for Children, and Arrow Child & Family Ministries.
Four states have passed legislation protecting private adoption agencies only, which Cooper said was seen by some to "codify" existing practices and fall within legal limits.
Maddox voiced his concern over the bill's effect on the LGBT community, and LGBT couples, saying, "one of the things that we strive for as human beings in general, is that we all want to fit into society".
Proponents of the bill have contended that it would increase the pool of prospective adoptive and desperately-needed foster care families by allowing faith-based organizations to stay open and continue providing their services while upholding their religious principles. "The bill says you can be referred to another agency, but there's no mechanism to set that up". Private firms receive state funding to handle the "vast majority" of adoptions, said Patrick Crimmins, a Department of Family and Protective Services spokesman. If it clears the House, the bill heads to the even more conservative Senate and then for an approval signature by Gov. Greg Abbott, who has not commented on the bill.
"If a 17-year-old who is sexually active wants birth control, the burden to prove that constitutional right is on the child", said Bryant.