Tennessee lawmakers on Tuesday passed legislation allowing Volunteer State adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex parents, the Tennessean reported.
The bill, the first passed by the state Senate in the 2020 legislative session, reportedly prohibits requiring licensed adoption agencies to be part of a placement that would "violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies” or denying licenses or grant applications for public funds based on the same.
The measure, which previously passed the state House last April, passed the Senate 20-6 and now heads to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R). Lee’s office told the Tennessean he intends to sign it into law.
A single Republican, state Sen. Steve Dickerson, joined the Senate’s five Democrats in voting against the bill. Five more GOP members did not vote.
Dickerson expressed concerns that the measure could wreak havoc on the tourism industry in the state as well as frighten away national athletic institutions unwilling to be seen as endorsing curtailing LGBTQ rights.
Speaking of institutions such as the NFL draft and NCAA basketball playoffs, Dickerson told the newspaper, “I think we can probably kiss that goodbye.”
State Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro (D) said the bill’s provisions also address a scenario he had never known to occur.
"There is no threat by the federal government, there is no threat by the state government" to shutter faith-based adoption agencies, Yarbro said. "I am unaware of anything that is trying to close these things down."
Yarbro attempted to add an amendment to the bill that would only extend its protections to agencies that did not receive public funds, but it was stripped from the final version.
The measure was endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission but vocally opposed by LGBTQ rights groups, including the Tennessee Equality Project and the national group Lambda Legal.
“This bill would give a special license to faith-based child welfare agencies funded with taxpayers dollars to discriminate in foster care and adoption against parents who are trying to provide a loving home to children in need,” Currey Cook, counsel and director for Lambda Legal’s Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project, said in a statement.
“This bill would children in foster care in Tennessee a much-needed family simply because agencies want to put their beliefs above the best of interests of the children,” Cook added.