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House committee passes bill to allow private adoption agencies to deny gay adoption

The Florida House Judiciary Committee today passed a controversial “conscience protection” bill (HB 7111) that would allow private adoption agencies to refuse child placements with gay couples.

Conscience protection legislation grants a person or an entity the ability to refuse to perform an otherwise required duty, because the individual or entity violates their religious or moral conviction, explained the bill’s sponsor, Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur.

Brodeur maintained that the bill was not proposed (in the middle of the legislative session) because of the uproar from social conservatives over the entire state House recently passing a bill repealing the state’s 1977 ban on gay adoption. Instead, he says it’s a preemptive move, to ensure that private agencies like Catholic Charities have to go out of business. He cites examples in Boston, San Francisco and Illinois, but admits that he knows of no such agencies that have had to fold because of current Florida law.

Longwood Republican Scott Plakon said however that he spoke to a private agency a day after the Florida House removed the ban on gay adoption from state statute, and that they had received their first gay adoption case. “Knowing these people, and knowing that they believe in the sanctity of marriage, of one man and one woman, they will be, I believe, one day, faced with a choice: either shut down…or get the heck out of the business, or do something that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs. I know these people. They will not be able to continue.”

But critics say it’s unconstitutional.

“This bill is not truly about private adoptions,” said ACLU attorney Michelle Richardson. “This is about agencies who receive state money and our taxes. That means they cannot discriminate on the basis of religion,” she said, adding that the bill “will let agencies put their religion first, and the kids second.”

“This is Indiana style discrimination, plain and simple,” said Carlos Smith with Equality Florida, referencing the raging controversy in Indiana regarding their religious freedom law. Like several other speakers, he appealed to members of the committee to consider the deleterious implications that the law could have on tourism. Private businesses like Angie’s List in Indiana and Walmart in Arkansas have been critical about their religious freedom bills, and there has been talk of boycotts in Indiana.

Two amendments proposed by House Democrats on the committee were voted down. One by Palm Springs Democrat Dave Kerner would not allow a private child placing agency to discriminate against any individual or couple on any grounds prohibited by federal state or local laws. It was shot down, which wasn’t surprising considering that at one point during discussion Kerner admitted it would “gut” Brodeur’s bill if passed.

“If they’re going to discriminate based on religious beliefs, they ought not to be in the practice of being involved in the adoption of children in the state of Florida,” Kerner declared.

Bill Bunkley, President of the Florida Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said that there was too much hype about the bill. He said all it did was allow for the fact that if an adoption agency had a conscience objection, the bill would allow that couple to go to “an appropriate agency” to adopt.

“That’s the whole truth. All the truth, and nothing but the truth, ” Bunkley declared.

John Stemberger from the Florida Family Planning Council told the committee that he feared the legislation if passed as currently written would be preempted by local governments (such as in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties) that include gays and lesbians in their human rights ordinance.

The bill moves on in the House, but there is not a Senate companion at this time.

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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