(WB) Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia on Monday signed into law a comprehensive bill updating the state’s adoption law after he joined a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in killing proposed changes that would have allowed adoptions by same-sex couples to be denied on religious grounds.
The Georgia General Assembly’s approval of the sweeping adoption reform bill, known as HB 159, which includes no restrictions against same-sex couple adoptions, appears to have been overshadowed by the passage by the Georgia Senate on Feb. 23 of a separate bill, the Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act, or SB 375.
That measure calls for allowing private adoption agencies receiving state funds to deny adoptions for certain couples or individual parents based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Legal experts say the bill’s language would allow faith-based adoption agencies to decline to approve an adoption for those with whom they disapprove, including single parents, unmarried couples and LGBT couples.
The bill would prohibit the state from defunding or penalizing a private adoption agency for making adoption decisions based on religious grounds.
Upon approval last month by the State Senate, SB 375 was sent to the House Judiciary Committee. A spokesperson for the committee’s chair, Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), told the Washington Blade on Tuesday that Willard had yet to schedule a hearing for the bill due to the committee’s consideration of numerous other bills. The spokesperson said she didn’t know when or if Willard planned to call a hearing.
Under the Georgia General Assembly’s 2818 legislative session, any bill that isn’t fully approved by the state House and Senate by March 29 will be considered dead for the session.
Jen Ryan, a spokesperson for Deal, told the Blade in an email that the “governor’s office doesn’t comment on pending legislation.”
However, at least one source familiar with Deal and the Republican-controlled legislature said Deal and a number of prominent GOP lawmakers have made it known they oppose SB 375, among other things, because they believe its perception as a discriminatory law would hurt efforts to bring and retain large businesses in the state.
Deal made his views known on that score in 2016 when he vetoed a “religious liberties” bill that critics said would have given employers and landlords authority to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds.
With Atlanta currently in contention for becoming the home for Amazon’s second corporate headquarters, Deal has called on state lawmakers to refrain from passing bills appearing to allow discrimination.
Meanwhile, a source familiar with the entertainment industry said prominent entertainment companies that have long been supportive of LGBT rights, including the Walt Disney Company, Netflix, and others that have produced films or conducted business in Georgia were watching with interest Georgia’s SB 375. The source said that if the bill passes and the governor signs it these and other companies might consider withdrawing film productions from Georgia.
“My hope is that the House of Representatives takes on work that’s more important to everyday Georgians and reflects the values of Georgia rather than addressing SB 375,” Georgia State Rep. David Dreyer (D-Atlanta), told the Blade on Tuesday.
Dreyer, who opposes SB 375, said he was proud that he and his colleagues in the State House and Senate worked diligently to secure passage of the comprehensive adoption bill that he said will modernize the state’s adoption process.
“Really I think the important story here is House Bill 159, which is a nondiscriminatory rewrite of our adoption code,” he said. “It was supported by Georgia Equality and other groups,” Dreyer said in referring to Georgia’s statewide LGBT rights organization. “It not only passed both chambers but the governor scheduled an early signing ceremony and signed it yesterday at noon.”
Dreyer noted that the bill was introduced last year and became stalled for a period of time when lawmakers disagreed over certain provisions added by members of the Senate.
“The Senate added discriminatory provisions and it would come back to the House and we would strip those,” Dreyer recalled. “And it went back and forth like that for some time. And the governor said he would only sign what he called a clean adoption bill,” said Dreyer.
“And everybody was referring to that as a nondiscriminatory adoption bill,” he said. “And finally this year we got the Senate to pass a clean adoption bill.”
Equality Georgia and the Human Rights Campaign, the national LGTBT advocacy group based in Washington, have spoken out against SB 375.
“This bill is a solution in search of a problem and would do nothing but make it more difficult for kids in the child welfare system to find a loving, long-term home,” said Nick Morrow, HRC’s southern states press secretary.
“It would also send a strong message that Georgia is not a welcoming place for all,” Morrow said. “HRC opposes this bill and any attempt to single out LGBTQ people for discrimination.”
Gay Republican activist Andrew Lawrence, a junior at the University of Georgia in Athens, said he organized an impromptu protest against SB 375 outside the state capital building on March 2. He said about a dozen people turned out to call on the State House to vote “no” on the bill and for Deal to veto it should it pass the House.
“Specifically, this bill would allow organizations to refuse LGBT couples the right to adopt children,” he said. “Bigotry, in this case, comes at the expense of a child in need of loving parents.”
— Lou Chibbaro Jr., Washington Blade courtesy of the National LGBTQ Media Association.