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South Dakota Legislature Sends Anti-LGBTQ “License to Discriminate” Bill to Governor’s Desk

Today, HRC joined the ACLU of South Dakota in urging South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard to veto Senate Bill (SB) 149 — discriminatory legislation targeting LGBTQ people and other minorities. SB 149 would enshrine taxpayer-funded discrimination into state law by allowing state-funded adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ youth in their care and to reject qualified prospective LGBTQ adoptive or foster parents based on the agency’s purported religious beliefs.

“We implore Governor Daugaard to veto this legislation. This proposal grants state-funded adoption agencies a license to discriminate, harming children in needs of families by rejecting a wide range qualified prospective parents including  LGBTQ parents and by acting against the best interest of LGBTQ youth in the agency’s care,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Last year, when Governor Daugaard vetoed HB 1008, he stood on the right side of history and protected transgender children. He must do the same now. This legislation puts discrimination ahead of the best interests of more than a thousand children in South Dakota waiting for a loving home.”

“The governor’s veto of HB 1008 put South Dakota on the right side of history, but Senate Bill 149 is a harmful and discriminatory piece of legislation that sets South Dakota backward. This would allow state-funded child placement agencies, based on their religious beliefs, to discriminate against children and prospective parents. Loving, qualified families could be turned away simply because they are LGBT, of a different faith than the agency, or divorced. The hundreds of children who are awaiting forever families in our state deserve better than this. Their best interests should be our priority, not the religious beliefs of these agencies,” said ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director Elizabeth A. Skarin. “We hope that Governor Daugaard recognizes the harm that discriminatory laws like SB 149 cause our state and considers a veto. If SB 149 becomes law, we want to hear from you or any child or family you know that is harmed. We will be examining our legal options.”

Last year, Governor Daugaard vetoed HB 1008, legislation that attacked the rights of transgender children in public schools by attempting to force them to use restrooms and other facilities inconsistent with their gender identity. Daugaard said that meeting with transgender students in his state “put a human face” on the legislation’s potential effect, and helped him to see things “through their eyes.”

SB 149 would allow state-licensed and taxpayer-funded child-placement agencies to disregard the best interest of children, and turn away qualified South Dakotans seeking to care for a child in need — including LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a purported religious objection. There are an estimated 1,174 children in South Dakota’s foster care system. The measure would even allow agencies to refuse to place foster children with members of their own extended families — a practice often considered to be in the best interest of the child. A qualified, loving LGBTQ grandparent, for example, could be deemed unsuitable under the proposed law.  It would also allow agencies to refuse to provide appropriate medical and mental health care to LGBTQ children if the agency has a purported moral or religious objection to providing those services. Shockingly, under SB 149, an agency couldn’t lose its license or contract as a result of subjecting a child to abusive practices like so-called conversion therapy if it claimed such “therapy” is compelled by religious belief.

Leading local pediatricians and legal experts, as well as the Adoption Exchange, the Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of Social Workers and Voices for Adoption sent letters to South Dakota legislators expressing their concern about SB 149.

Research consistently shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, as many have been rejected by their families of origin because they are LGBTQ. These young people are already vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment while in foster care, and SB 149 would only exacerbate the challenges they face.

The attack on fairness and equality in South Dakota is part of an onslaught of bills being pushed in 2017 by anti-equality activists around the country. HRC is currently tracking more than 70 anti-LGBTQ legislative proposals in 24 states. For more information, visit http://hrc.im/2017legislature.