Adoption is an incredibly time and resource intensive process. From finding adoption agencies, to filling out the massive amounts of paperwork, to extreme vetting to ensure children go to a safe home, to homestudies, to pre and post placement, it can take couples anywhere between two and seven years to adopt a child in the United States. Laws have changed throughout the last century to increase access and opportunity for families looking to adopt children. In recent years, however, some states have been passing bills that decrease access and opportunity to families looking to provide children a safe, loving home.
History of Different Adoption Laws
Adoption laws have been changing throughout history as our society has progressed. The Massachusetts Adoption of Children Act of 1851 was the first US legislation pertaining to adoption. This act recognized adoption as a social and legal operation based on child welfare rather than adult interests. In 1891, Michigan started to require that “the [the judge] shall be satisfied as to the good moral character, and the ability to support and educate such child, and of the suitableness of the home, or the person or persons adopting such child.” Throughout the 2oth century, specialized adoption agencies, “baby farming“, social work schools and welfare laws were common. This was the time where minimum standards of parents were put in place, homestudies were invented, black market adoptions were made illegal and other general guidelines were developed to ensure children’s safety in their new homes.
In 1948, the first transracial adoption took place in Minnesota. In 1955, at the Child Welfare League of America national conference on adoption, they announced that the era of special needs adoption had arrived. Soon after, Pearl S. Buck accused social workers and religious institutions of sustaining the black market and preventing the adoption of children in order to preserve their jobs. The first organized program for single parent adoptions was established in 1965 by the Los Angeles County Bureau of Adoptions. This program was aimed at locating homes for hard-to-place children with special needs. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child extended human rights more fully to children than any other legal document in 1989. In 1994, the Multiethnic Placement Act was founded as the first federal law pertaining to race and adoption. This act prohibited agencies which received federal funds from denying transracial adoptions on the sole basis of race. Throughout history, adoption law has progressed along with society when speaking about access, race implications and other barriers, so why does it seem like the new laws are going backwards?
The bills gaining the most public attention have to do with states allowing agencies to refuse to place children with parents that infringe on their religious freedom.
AL HB24 allows adoption agencies to deny placements with gay couples, mixed-faith couples, single parents, divorced people or others whose “family structure” conflicts with the agency’s religious beliefs. Governor Kay Ivey stated when talking about the bill, “I ultimately signed House Bill 24 because it ensures hundreds of children can continue to find forever homes through religiously-affiliated adoption agencies. This bill is not about discrimination, but instead protects the ability of religious agencies to place vulnerable children in a permanent home.” The protections in Alabama would apply only to private agencies that don’t accept state or federal funds.
MI HB4188 sought to stop “adverse action” against private agencies which contract with the state to provide adoption services, including any attempt to strip them of state funding. Michigan’s bill is similar to Alabama’s, in that if an agency does reject prospective parents on the grounds of religion, they have to refer that parent to another agency and provide them with a written list of options. This bill was passed in 2015.
The Freedom to Serve Children Act (TX HB3859) allows adoption agencies to turn away potential parents they find “objectionable” on religious grounds; it does not specify how the process of providing alternatives for potential parents rejected by faith-based providers would function. Other provisions in the bill include allowing adoption and foster care agencies refuse to provide or facilitate abortion services and contraception to teens under their care. It also aims to allow child welfare providers to require children under their care to receive a religious education, including putting them in religious schools. When speaking about the bill, Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow at the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, stated “It doesn’t prevent same-sex couples from adopting. It simply prevents any given agency from being penalized for not doing a same-sex adoption, if doing so would violate its beliefs.”
South Dakota’s bill is similar to Texas’s because their agencies are largely funded by tax dollars although they are private organizations. This means that people who are paying taxes to the state who do not have values that align with the organization’s values are funding their ability to make the decisions based off of their religious beliefs.
VA HB 2025 takes the premise of Texas and South Dakota’s bills and applies it to other state run agencies. HB 2025 could allow taxpayer-funded organizations (like homeless shelters and adoption agencies) to refuse service to same-sex couples, transgender people and anyone suspected of having intimate relationships outside of a heterosexual marriage (such as single mothers or a cohabiting straight couple) without losing taxpayer funding, contracts, licensing or other forms of state recognition. A similar bill last year, SB 41, was vetoed by the Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.
These bills are seen by many as a gateway to more discriminatory legislation, like HB 2 which we saw come out of North Carolina last year. For more information on the issue and bill, read this post.
I think there are issues on both sides of this matter. Depending on how you frame it – either protecting these agencies from closing down or rejecting loving parents based off of their race, religion or sexual orientation – arguments can me made for and against both sides. There have been policies that forced faith-based agencies to close in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and Washington, D.C. Now, forcing these places to close takes away necessary resources for children; but, allowing these agencies to discriminate based on religious grounds takes away the possibility of placement in a loving home sooner.
Another aspect of this conflict is the time old issue of your tax money going to things you do not support. In this context, it is usually applied to people’s money going to marriage benefits for same-sex couples when they do not believe in same-sex marriage. In the adoption agency situation, people in these states who do not believe it is right to discriminate based on race, religion or sexual orientation, can have their tax money funding these organizations and the decisions they are making.
My thoughts on your “right to disagree” and not provide business services or hire someone because of your opinions is that it is your right. But, it becomes an issue when you not wanting to do something infringes on the rights of the person you are doing it to. In these cases, I am compelled to support the person who is in the more vulnerable position. So I have to side with the parents looking to provide loving homes to children, they and the children in question are in the vulnerable position. The agency is only putting itself in a vulnerable position (of being closed) by allowing personal to make these decisions. When comparing the quality of life of a child to to survival of a “company” there is no question. There is also no question in my mind that someone who is Jewish, Sikh, black, single, lesbian, gay etc would be just as good of a parent to a child than a white, christian couple.
I’d be curious to hear more thoughts on this, comment them below if you feel so inclined!