Adoption Becomes the Latest Battleground in Religious Liberty Debate

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Kimberly Leonard, writing for the Washington Examiner, describes the clash between religious liberty and LGBT rights as it expands to include the issue of adoption. The issue is emotional and increasingly difficult to see clearly. In changing the definitions of marriage and family, the responsibility of raising children has been subordinated to the false notion that people have certain rights to have children. What has been obscured is the well-being of the children themselves, not to mention the rights of religious organizations to act in good conscience as they attempt to find safe and healthy homes for children in need.

Adoption by same-sex couples was made legal nationally in 2016. Religious organizations have naturally sought exemptions, but LGBT rights groups call these actions discriminatory. Leonard reports that “a bill supported by LGBTQ rights advocates, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, would prohibit agencies that receive state funds from denying adoption or foster care to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.” However, there is also a counter bill called the Child Welfare Provider and Inclusion Act  that “would prohibit states from declining to partner with agencies because of their religious or moral beliefs.”

Although neither of these bills seems likely to advance through a GOP-controlled Congress, these battles are also raging at the state level. With the rising tide of LGBT propagandists, some of the state battles are beginning to attract national attention. Alabama, South Dakota, and Texas are providing exemptions for adoption agencies to deny certain parents children based on religious reasons. Several other states have similar exemptions.

Related skirmishes are also heating up in other states. For example, in Michigan:

[T]he American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of two same-sex couples against Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services and the Children’s Services Agency for faith-based agencies’ refusal to accept applications from same-sex parents. According to the lawsuit, one representative told a lesbian couple that “same-sex couples aren’t our area of expertise.”

Representative Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), who introduced the religious exemption House bill, has said that the above-named lawsuit is the reason why this legislation protecting religious liberty must pass: “Cases like these prove the need for solutions like the Inclusion Act. It is not just based on fears of what could happen but a necessary response to things that are already happening. Religious liberty is under assault, and innocent children are in the crossfire.” Kelly puts his finger on the real issues: children and the quality of a family. The real debate is about what is healthy and edifying for children.

The Left sees it differently, however. State legislative director and senior counsel at Human Rights Campaign Cathryn Oakley claims, along with LGBT rights advocates, that the exemptions are “really a license to discriminate.” Her concerns and the concerns of the LGBT rights community are that the exemptions are so broad they could include excluding Muslims, interfaith couples, and single parents. They also worry about denying the placement of gay or transgender children with families who would affirm their identity.

While compelling on the surface, these arguments are merely meant to distract from the real issues. For example, Oakley states: “There’s also a dignitary harm in saying, ‘We don’t serve people like you, but we know someone who doesn’t have the same principles and are willing to serve people like you.'” However, the real dignitary harm is to children if we fail to understand that this issue is about them, not people “like you.” People who choose to live in such a way that is potentially harmful to children are rightfully scrutinized.

The final distracting argument is mathematical: There are many children in need of homes, and if same-sex couples are prevented from adopting, children won’t be placed in loving homes. But it is irresponsible to hold placement in a home as the highest good without considering the quality of the home and family.

At least this last argument brings us back to the real issue, however: the nature of the family. Our focal point ought to be children and their well-being. Children are not commodities to be bartered or turned into political footballs. On this issue, there are no rights more important than the rights of the vulnerable and innocent children who need safe and stable homes.

Children have a natural right to a mother and father, a fact that takes precedence over the “rights” of same-sex couples. But LGBT advocates have reversed the equation, touting the rights of same-sex couples to adopt children without regard for the questions that ought to precede it. Now, this vital ethical deliberation is being left to courts increasingly bereft of a moral compass. Let us at least attempt to put children first.


Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg

Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project, a writer in residence and teacher of philosophy and theology at Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta. He is also a senior contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and has written for numerous venues on matters of faith, culture and education.