On Thursday afternoon, the Florida House of Representatives voted 75–38 to pass a bill (HB 7111) that would allow the state’s adoption agencies to engage in any kind of discrimination if serving a particular family violates its “religious or moral convictions or policies.” The state contracts with several private agencies to manage its child-placement services, some of which are religiously affiliated. Under the bill, the state could not revoke a license nor refuse any funding to these agencies based on their decision not to place children with certain families.
Unlike how the “religious freedom” bills played out in Arkansas and Indiana, proponents of Florida’s legislation were quite open during this week’s debates about the bill’s discriminatory intentions. On Wednesday, Rep. David Richardson (D) spearheaded efforts to undermine the bill with various amendments that would have carved out nondiscrimination exemptions. His first amendment would have prevented the state from funding organizations that discriminate; the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jason Brodeur (R) responded, “This amendment does the exact opposite of the entire bill. I was ask that you vote it down.” It was, in fact, voted down 38–78.
From there, other members introduced separate amendments carving out discrimination exemptions for specific classes: one for race, one for marital status, one for sexual orientation, one for gender, etc. Among the amendment sponsors was Rep. Janet Cruz (D), who explained, “I have a daughter who’s gay and I want to make sure she’s never discriminated against if she decides to adopt a child.” In each case, Brodeur offered a substitute amendment — each of which was identical — adding instead only the words, “An act by a private child-placing agency under this subsection does not constitute discrimination.” The substitute amendments passed every time as the House essentially voted in favor of discrimination based on all of those classes.
When Brodeur was repeatedly asked to confirm that his bill would allow the various types of discrimination addressed by the proposed amendments, he usually demurred. Most times, he rejected the premise of the questions, insisting that he was simply protecting “religious freedom.” On at least one occasion, Brodeur did, however, admit the discriminatory intentions of his legislation. Richardson asked him, “If a child-placing agency decided that they had a moral objection to having single moms adopt, would they be permitted under your bill to have that policy and then reject all single mothers from adopting in the state of Florida?” Brodeur responded with a simple, “Yes.” Watch it:
Despite the bill’s passage in the House, advocates are hopeful that it won’t pass the Senate. Rather than existing as a separate bill, the pro-discriminatory measure was considered in the Senate as an amendment to the bill that is actually repealing an unconstitutional statute banning same-sex couples from adopting. The Senate blocked it Wednesday, and there is currently no other Senate bill to serve as a companion to HB 7111, making it unlikely — but not impossible — that the pro-discrimination bill becomes law before the session is over.
Equality Florida chief executive Nadine Smith responded to the House vote in a press release, saying, “Thursday’s House vote sends an ugly message about Florida, whether it becomes law or not. As other states such as Indiana have learned, discriminatory laws under the false guise of religious freedom are widely criticized. They are unfair and unjust, and they also hurt a state’s economy.” She also pointed out that Florida still has no statewide law protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodations.