South Dakota Legalizes Anti-Gay Discrimination in Adoption

LGBT adoption

The first 2017 state-level anti-LGBTQ bill to pass a state legislature and be signed into law is official: South Dakota just passed Senate Bill 149 that will allow public child placement agencies to discriminate against potential parents so long as that discrimination is based in religious belief. Though the legislation was vehemently opposed by both child welfare experts and diversity advocacy groups, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard signed the bill into law Friday evening.

At its core SB 149 offers taxpayer-funded child placement agencies the right to use religious belief as a basis for denying persons the right to adopt a child. Though the legislation is intended to target the LGBTQ community, it has far-reaching implications including targeting divorced individuals, interfaith couples, Muslim couples, single parents, and other religiously ‘untenable’ potential parents.

Perhaps even more insidious, the legislation would allow these same agencies the power to keep adoptive children away from members of those kids’ extended family if the agency finds something religiously objectionable about them.

In a statement condemning SB 149, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) outlined the draconian measures the legislation just legalized in South Dakota:

The measure would even allow agencies to refuse to place foster children with members of their own extended families — a practice often considered to be in the best interest of the child. A qualified, loving LGBTQ grandparent, for example, could be deemed unsuitable under the proposed law. It would also allow agencies to refuse to provide appropriate medical and mental health care to LGBTQ children if the agency has a purported moral or religious objection to providing those services. Shockingly, under SB 149, an agency couldn’t lose its license or contract as a result of subjecting a child to abusive practices like so-called conversion therapy if it claimed such “therapy” is compelled by religious belief.

They added, “Research consistently shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, as many have been rejected by their families of origin because they are LGBTQ. These young people are already vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment while in foster care, and SB 149 would only exacerbate the challenges they face.”

ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director Elizabeth A. Skarin criticized the new law as well as Daugaard in a statement. “Governor Daugaard’s decision to sign this discriminatory legislation into law is deeply disappointing.” Skarin added, “Loving, qualified families should not be turned away from adopting a needy child simply because they are LGBT, of a different faith than the agency, or divorced. Even worse, this law directly affects the hundreds of children in South Dakota awaiting their forever families — and those children deserve better from our state leaders.”

Those hundreds of children – approximately  1,174 children as of last count – are the real victims of SB 149 as they lose potential parents due to the religious prejudices of those working in and leading adoption agencies (even state-licensed, taxpayer-funded facilities).

With the passage of SB 149, South Dakota joins the ranks of a handful of other states (such as Michigan, North Dakota, and Virginia) with similar statutes.

Several other anti-LGBTQ bills are still pending across the nation including similar child placement agency bills in Alabama and Texas and broader religion-based ‘license to discriminate’ bills in 13 states. That’s all in addition to the federal First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) – a piece of legislation rumored to be making another appearance in this session of Congress. Should the latter pass, Donald Trump has vowed to sign it into law.

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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