NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee has become the latest state to assure continued taxpayer funding of faith-based foster care and adoption agencies even if those organizations exclude LGBT families and others based on religious beliefs.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill Friday without fanfare or an official announcement, making it the first law to be implemented in Tennessee this year.
Previously, Lee said he endorsed the law because he believed defending religious liberty “is very important.” The Republican has often cited his Christian faith throughout his first term as governor.
However, under the new law, current adoption practices in Tennessee aren’t expected to change. Some faith-based agencies had already not allowed gay couples to adopt. But the measure now provides legal protections to agencies that do so.
Those protections have sparked criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, which has raised legal concerns surrounding the proposal because it authorized the use of a “religious test to participate in a government program.”
The Campaign for Southern Equality issued a statement asking Lee to “deeply and prayerfully consider the damage and harm of this bill, which could do a colossal disservice to the many children in Tennessee waiting to be adopted by safe and loving families.”
A handful of states to date have enacted similar legislation including Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, South Dakota, North Dakota, Virginia, Mississippi and Michigan. But Michigan agreed in settling an ACLU lawsuit to no longer turn away LGBT couples or individuals because of religious objections.
Earlier this month, state Sen. Paul Rose — the bill’s sponsor — conceded during a floor debate that he didn’t think the bill was necessary, pointing out that President Donald Trump’s administration is currently proposing a rule that would impose the same protections. Yet he said he advanced the idea because there was no guarantee Trump would be reelected later this year.
Trump’s proposal would rescind an Obama-era rule that prevented foster care agencies from receiving federal funds if they discriminated against families based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
This story has been updated to correct the name of the American Civil Liberties Union.