House Republicans advance ‘license to discriminate’ amendment for adoption agencies

They'd be guaranteed funding even if they refuse to serve same-sex couples.

A same-sex couple enjoying 2017's Miami Beach Pride Festival with their child. CREDIT: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images
A same-sex couple enjoying 2017's Miami Beach Pride Festival with their child. CREDIT: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images

Anti-LGBTQ conservatives were ecstatic Wednesday when House Republicans advanced an amendment that would guarantee that adoption agencies could discriminate against same-sex couples without any consequences. It was tacked onto a funding bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

The House Appropriates Committee passed the amendment 29-23, with all Democrats voting against it and all Republicans, except Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA), voting for it. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) introduced the amendment and claimed that it was necessary to protect child welfare providers from “discrimination” on the basis of their religious convictions.

Not only does the amendment ensure that agencies that discriminate cannot lose their funding as a result of doing so, it also punishes any state or local government that does hold agencies accountable for their discriminatory practices by withholding 15 percent of federal funding for their child welfare services.

“As co-chairman of the House Coalition on Adoption, my goal was straightforward,” Aderholt said in a statement, “to encourage states to include all experienced and licensed child welfare agencies so that children are placed in caring, loving homes where they can thrive.  We need more support for these families and children in crisis, not less.”


But Aderholt’s amendment prioritizes the religious organizations who want to discriminate over the children they care for. He and other conservatives argue that children are best off if there are more agencies doing the work, but if there are more agencies willing to work with fewer parents, that only reduces the likelihood of finding homes for all the children who need them. And the amendment wouldn’t just affect LGBTQ families, but also unmarried heterosexual couples, single parents, and others families that don’t live up to these agencies religious standards. Aderholt’s willingness to punish states and localities that expect agencies they fund to serve all families undermines his claims of working on children’s behalf.

House Democrats noted this contradiction, as well as the fact that the House Republicans seemed to care about these children who need homes far more than the immigrant children separated from their families at the border.

House Republicans were nevertheless thrilled by the amendment’s passage. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) boasted, for example, “This is a win for the entire faith-based child welfare provider community and, most importantly, all the innocent children they serve who are waiting for forever homes.” He further insisted that “the left’s faith-shaming cannot be permitted to close the doors of one more adoption or foster care center in our country.”


Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) even leaned into the stark contradiction between Republican immigration policy and this amendment, telling the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, “It is abhorrent that jurisdictions like Philadelphia, which are all too willing to provide sanctuary for criminal illegal aliens who threaten our community safety, openly discriminate against religious organizations that provide valuable charitable services to a community.”

Both Harris and Kelly referred to Philadelphia in their comments, noting that earlier this year, the city suspended two adoption agencies that refused to serve LGBTQ families. One of those agencies, Bethany Christian Services, found an easy way to resume working with the city, which was to simply agree to serve same-sex couples. The other, Catholic Social Services, is instead suing Philadelphia for the right to continue to discriminate because “Catholic teaching indicates children are best raised in a home with a husband and wife.”

Unsurprisingly, anti-LGBTQ conservatives lauded the amendment’s passage. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ hate group, called the amendment “good news” in a statement. “Mothers who are considering adoption should have the right to choose what agencies they want to work with to support them,” he said, failing to explain how that helps children.

The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson likewise claimed that funding groups that serve fewer families would somehow help more children:

Several states have passed similar “license to discriminate” bills for adoption agencies. In May, both Kansas and Oklahoma passed such legislation within a day of each other — bills crafted by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), another anti-LGBTQ hate group. ADF recently represented the Colorado baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple and likewise represents many other wedding vendors challenging LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws.


Last year, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Michigan’s law on behalf of same-sex couples that were refused service by both Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services.