The measure allows faith-based agencies to use their religious beliefs as a justification to reject same-sex couples that are trying to adopt children from the state's foster care system.
The proposal is one of several "religious liberty" bills pending in the Georgia General Assembly. Business leaders oppose these measures, saying they could hurt the state's reputation as Amazon is considering Atlanta as a possible location for its second headquarters.
The bill could soon reach the full Georgia Senate for a vote before advancing to the state House.
Sen. William Ligon, the bill's sponsor, said he wants to protect adoption agencies that fear the state government could try to force them to serve same-sex couples.
“The issue is ensuring that opportunities are available for everyone,” said Ligon, R-Brunswick. “This does not exclude anyone.”
But Sen. Elena Parent, who opposed the legislation, said the bill is trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist in Georgia.
She said the state foster care system hasn’t declined a contract to any adoption agency because of its religious beliefs, and agencies already have the ability to refuse service to gay couples.
“If you’re basically putting in state law language that affirms the ability to discriminate based on a view of marriage, that would actually discourage adoptive parents,” said Parent, D-Atlanta.
There are more than 13,000 children in Georgia’s foster care system, and only about 1,000 of them were adopted last year, Ligon said.
Senators supporting the legislation said they want to ensure faith-based adoption agencies remain open in Georgia.
Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, said Catholic Charities stopped offering adoption services in other states rather than comply with requirements that they must serve same-sex couples to receive state funding.
“At any time, the executive branch could change existing policy,” McKoon said. “The debate will continue about whether people of faith are going to be pushed to the margin of society.”
The committee vote split along party lines, with five Republicans in favor and two Democrats opposed.
Mark Niesse covers voting rights and elections for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He also reports on the Georgia House of Representatives and government. He has been a reporter at the AJC since 2013 following a decade at The Associated Press in Atlanta, Honolulu and Montgomery, Ala.