(AP) Gay-rights advocates in Oklahoma launched a campaign Monday to stop a bill they say will codify the ability of religious-based adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples seeking to adopt.
Faith-based groups including the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma are among those pushing Senate Bill 1140, which would protect child-placing agencies that block adoptive parents who do not meet the agency's religious or moral standards.
Similar laws have been passed in at least seven other states, including Alabama, South Dakota and Texas last year, and other measures are pending this year in Georgia and Kansas. A bill with similar language also has been introduced in U.S. Congress.
The religious groups say such a law is necessary to protect the religious liberty of faith-based adoption providers who may have policies to assist only heterosexual, married, Christian couples to adopt.
But Freedom Oklahoma Executive Director Troy Stevenson said the bill would deny children the right to a loving family.
"We've got 9,000 young people in the system who are looking for loving homes," Stevenson said. "We're going to keep more kids in the system and less families from adopting."
Stevenson said it would also allow agencies to discriminate against single parents, divorced people or interfaith couples. He said Freedom Oklahoma is planning to launch an "unprecedented outreach program" to fight the bill now pending in the state Senate, including phone calls, television advertising and a lobby day at the state Capitol.
Oklahoma law currently is silent on whether private adoption agencies can discriminate against potential adoptive parents, and some faith-based agencies already do not allow gay couples or single people to adopt. The bill would protect that practice from a potential lawsuit, said Sen. Greg Treat, an Oklahoma City Republican, the bill's sponsor.
"We want to build the levee before the flood," Treat said. "Right now there are no pending lawsuits, but we know they are popping up everywhere all around the country."
Last month, a same-sex couple in Texas sued the federal government and a Catholic group claiming they were disqualified from becoming foster parents because they didn't "mirror the holy family."
The state of Oklahoma and many private adoption agencies welcome same-sex couples as long as they provide a stable home for a child and meet other criteria outlined by state, including background checks, said Casey White, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, which currently oversees 8,700 children in state custody.
"We certify foster and adoptive families who are LGBTQ all the time," White said. "Even if a private adoption agency decided not to certify someone, there are many options for families to choose from."