Adoption bill stalls in Georgia after anti-LGBT amendment added

State Senator William Ligon, R-Brunswick, sponsored an amendment to an adoption bill that includes language to protect agencies that accept taxpayer-subsidized grants but don’t want to place children with all families. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Legislation that would add "religious liberty" protections to an unrelated bill dealing with adoptions has stalled in the Georgia Senate over objections it would allow private adoption agencies to refuse to place children with LGBT families.

House Bill 159, a bipartisan bill to modernize Georgia's adoption laws, was changed last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee to include language to protect agencies that accept taxpayer-subsidized grants but don't want to place children with all families.

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After an uproar forced the bill to be reconsidered, the same committee declined Thursday to vote it out a second time. The author of last week's amendment, state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, vowed to pursue the effort. He said the effects of the changes had been "grossly misconstrued" and that "the amendment is not discriminatory on its face."

The committee’s decision doesn’t kill the bill outright. It does all but end its chances this legislative session, which concludes next week. Bills in the Senate need to be passed out of committee no later than Friday morning for consideration before then. However, because the Georgia Legislature works on a two-year cycle, HB 159 remains eligible for consideration next year.

Ligon’s changes remain in the bill and would give agencies broad protection to refuse service to anyone on religious grounds. That could include someone who had previously been divorced, same-sex couples or couples of different religions. Critics immediately said they feared it would allow state-sanctioned discrimination.

Supporters said the amendment would protect adoption agencies from having to violate deeply held religious beliefs. They also noted that some adoption agencies work with LGBT families and that those agencies could continue with that work.

Bobby Cagle, the director at the state’s Division of Family and Children Services, said last week that the provision endangers “hundreds of millions of dollars” the agency receives from the federal government because it appears to violate federal nondiscrimination laws.

Cagle said the agency uses state and federal money to help place children needing homes and that none of the 89 agencies the department works with are allowed to refuse placement based on religious objections.

Gov. Nathan Deal criticized the change earlier this week, saying he supported the overall bill and wanted the change reconsidered. The state's top business organizations also spoke out against it, as the Senate's powerful Rules Committee kicked the bill back to the Judiciary Committee because it "went a little extreme," said Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga.

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