While recent Adoption Protection Act bills in Oklahoma and Kansas mark clear victories for private adoption providers’ right of conscience, the biggest winners are the children who may never know about the legislation.
Children are at the heart of both bills—which have been hotly contested by the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, and others—says Kansas state representative Susan Humphries.
As she was answering questions on the bill from the House floor late Thursday night and into Friday morning, Humphries kept a mental picture of a friend of hers who provides adoptions—often in the harshest of situations. On one occasion, the woman met with a birth mother under a bridge to help her through a crucial step toward entrusting her child to an adoptive family.
That friend, Humphries said, should not have to choose between her conscience and serving birth parents and children in need.
“She isn’t just there to facilitate adoptions, she’s there to change lives,” Humphries said. “She’s in the trenches.”
Humphries, who’s spent her life serving children through a slew of volunteer and professional capacities, sponsored the bill in her home state and saw it through all the way through an after-midnight vote May 4. A couple of hours earlier, Oklahoma had sent its version of a similar bill to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk.
If both governors sign the legislation into law—which they’re expected to by the end of this week—a total of nine U.S. states will have ensured all child welfare providers in their states are free to continue to find loving, forever homes for children. And those states will have upheld the right of faith-based agencies, if they so desire, to set policies that seek to maximize the likelihood that children will receive the love of both a mother and a father.
Notably, neither bill introduces a new policy or regulation but simply ensures private providers are free to continue to serve consistent with their values. Many providers will continue to place children with same-sex couples and single individuals as they already do, ensuring a large diversity of adoption and foster care providers throughout Kansas and Oklahoma.
Protecting a diversity of providers is good news for everyone in both states, including Catholic Charities, which has been forced out of Massachusetts, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and Illinois for serving consistent with their faith and seeking to place children with a married mother and father. The new legislation in Kansas and Oklahoma ensures that Catholic Charities and other private providers can continue to serve children and families consistent with their beliefs as they have for decades.
“We are overjoyed to have prevailed in our months-long battle to protect faith-based adoption agencies,” said Brett Farley, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oklahoma. “If the governor ultimately signs the measure into law, Catholic Charities will be able to continue placing children in loving homes, free of the threat of coercive regulations and lawsuits.”
In addition to protecting existing child welfare providers like Catholic Charities, the legislation is already paving the way for more faith-based adoption and foster care support in the both states. This is good news, as most faith-based providers are particularly effective in helping hard-to-place children, including older children and those with special needs.
Bethany Christian Services—which serves in 30 states, but not in Oklahoma or Kansas—is already expressing interest in expanding to both states, says Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Kellie Fiedorek.
“Every single child deserves the chance to be raised in a loving family,” Fiedorek said. “No provider should be prevented from serving children and families because the government doesn’t like their religious beliefs. When states respect a diversity of opinions and providers, everyone—including birth parents, families, and especially children—will benefit.”
For Eric Teetsel, the president and executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, the fact the Kansas bill has landed on Gov. Jeff Colyer’s desk is a small miracle in itself.
“This would not have been possible without the thousands of Kansans all over the state who joined us in calling on elected leaders in Kansas…to actually do something to protect faith-based adoption and foster care providers who selflessly serve Kansas children,” Teetsel said. “These agencies are indispensable parts of the diverse network of providers who partner with the state to ensure that each child is safe, provided for, and loved…. Kansas has made clear: Everyone is welcome here.”