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South Dakota Senate Passes “License to Discriminate” Bill For Taxpayer-Funded Adoption Agencies

Today, HRC and the ACLU of South Dakota slammed a vote by the South Dakota Senate passing 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 reject prospective LGBTQ adoptive or foster parents based on the agency’s purported religious beliefs.

“Let’s be clear. This ‘license to discriminate’ proposal is a direct assault on LGBTQ South Dakotans and their families,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Taxpayer money should never be used by state-funded adoption agencies to discriminate against prospective parents based on factors that have nothing to do with good parenting. This measure could have consequences not just for LGBTQ couples, but for single people, divorced people, or even those of a different faith. The South Dakota House of Representatives must reject this atrocious legislation allowing discrimination contrary to the best interests of children in desperate need of loving, caring homes.”

“This bill works against the needs of vulnerable children in the foster care system in South Dakota by denying them access to good families and important services,” said ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director Elizabeth A. Skarin. “Our legislators must take a stand for all South Dakotans — and especially vulnerable children — and ensure that discrimination doesn’t get in the way of loving families seeking to provide homes for those who don’t have them.”

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. 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.

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 especially 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.