The Georgia Senate committee tasked with reconsidering an anti-LGBT amendment it added to a bill declined on Thursday, tanking a bill that would modernize state adoption laws.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a second hearing for House Bill 159, but adjourned without taking any action on the legislation. The hearing came a week after the same committee voted 7-4 to add language to the bill allowing faith-based adoption and foster agencies that receive state funds to ban adoptions by LGBT people and others.
It now means the legislation – which enjoys bipartisan support – is tabled and effectively dead for the legislative session, which ends next week.
The amendment clearly frustrated Rep. Bert Reeves, the Republican sponsor of the legislation. He urged the committee to remove the amendment and offer it as separate legislation so his bill could proceed to a Senate vote.
"My bill is needed now without the sections that have been added that frankly, with all due respect, will prevent the bill from passing into law," Reeves told the committee. "This is a different policy argument that is not just interrupting or interfering but is essentially killing this."
But Sen. William Ligon (top photo), the Republican who proposed the anti-LGBT amendment, defended it. He said the language was added to protect the mission of faith-based agencies.
"The amendment was brought to ensure that agencies that have historically provided services for many years will continue to do so," Ligon said. "The amendment is not discriminatory on its face.”
"It is a fact that faith-based agencies have been shut down in some states because the power of the state came and said we’re going to ask you to do things that may violate your mission statement. We don’t want that to happen in this state. We want to ensure that there are many places available to put children in good loving homes. The intent and the effect of the bill has been grossly misconstrued," Ligon added.
But LGBT advocates child welfare workers argued otherwise.
Rev. Beth LaRocca-Pitts, senior pastor at Saint Mark United Methodist Church, said the church's membership is 90 percent LGBTQ and many of its parishioners have adopted children.
"These are Christian people. These are fine people who are marvelous parents," LaRocca-Pitts said. "If we care that every child in foster care be adopted into a loving home, anything that restricts viable fit parents, they shouldn't be benefitted by state funds.”
Kathy Colbenson, CEO of CHRIS 180, said the amendment to the bill "enables discrimination."
"We think the bill is really good but the amendment is really frightening when the lives of children hang in the balance," Colbenson said.
"The language is broad and would open the door to discrimination. It limits the capacity of safe loving homes for children," she added.
The bill is 'a little extreme'
The bill passed the House 165-0 on Feb. 24 as a way to update and revise the laws that govern adoptions and a foster care system in Georgia that includes 12,000 children. But Republican lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee hijacked it during a hearing on March 16. They voted 7-4 along party lines to add language that would allow adoption and foster care agencies that receive public funds to refuse service to LGBT people and others based on religious beliefs.
Ligon described his amendment as a way for the state to partner with “as many child placement agencies as possible.”
Among the lawmakers who supported the amendment were ones with anti-LGBT records, including Sens. Josh McKoon and Greg Kirk.
Opposition to the anti-LGBT amendment surfaced quickly after it was added to the bill. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Bert Reeves, opposed it. LGBT advocates condemned it and Gov. Nathan Deal asked lawmakers to reconsider it. The ACLU of Georgia called the amendment a “discriminatory provision.”
Sen. Jeff Mullis (bottom photo), the Republican chair of the Senate Rules Committee, called it “a little extreme” and sent the bill back to the Senate Judiciary Committee that approved it. That set up the hearing on Thursday.
Ahead of the committee hearing Thursday, LGBT opponents of the amendment warned that Ligon was resisting calls to reconsider it.
“It's astonishing that a handful of lawmakers are willing to put the wellbeing of more than 10,000 orphans and foster kids in jeopardy,” Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said in a prepared statement.
“Every child in our state deserves a safe home with nurturing parents, and every agency that receives taxpayer dollars has an obligation to place those children in homes with loving parents. That’s all that matters. It’s jarring that in 2017, we’re looking at legislation that is this blatantly anti-family and anti-LGBT,” Graham said.
Georgia Equality said the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Georgia Chamber of Commerce, along with First Data, opposed the amendment.
“First Data is committed to fostering an inclusive workplace that promotes fairness and diversity, and the proposed legislation violates our core belief that all Americans deserve to be treated equally and respectfully. We ask that the legislature fix this bill,” Cindy Armine-Klein, First Data’s Chief Control Officer, said in a prepared statement.