Legislation that protects faith-based adoption services is languishing in the Kansas House Fed and State Affairs committee, and proponents of the legislation are wondering whether the committee chair, Rep. John Barker, will schedule a hearing to advance it. HB The Adoption Protection Act, or HB 2687 boasts 32 sponsors in the Kansas House. Similar legislation sits in a Kansas Senate committee as well.
“People are very nervous any time they deal with these issues about any kind of media attention they’re going to get and about the kinds of distortion they’re going to get,” Michael Schuttloffel, the executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, says.
The legislation already has met media resistance.
The Wichita Eagle reported that the legislation would allow Kansas adoption and foster agencies to refuse to place children with gay and lesbian couples. It’s legal to adopt children to gay and lesbian couples in all 50 states, including Kansas, and HB 2687 doesn’t change that.
The Wichita daily reported that Tom Witt, the executive director of Equality Kansas, claims that the legislation is “clearly targeted” at LGBT families. The bill doesn’t specify sexual mores. Instead, it affirms the rights of private placement agencies to operate according to their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Schuttloffel says the legislation maintains the status quo.
“This bill does not in any way affect the legal right that’s been established in all 50 states. Same-sex couples can adopt in Kansas. If we pass this law, they will continue to adopt as before,” he says. “It just protects faith-based providers from the people who want to shut them down, because they disagree with them.”
Catholic Charities only places children with married mothers and fathers, and in a handful of places like Boston, Washington, D.C., and Illinois, the adoption agencies closed after legislators demanded they place children with same-sex couples.
Eric Teetsel, the executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, said the Kansas legislation is a preventative effort.
“We have seen in several states the shutting down of faith-based adoption providers because of either policies or legislative acts or executive orders that deemed if you didn’t toe the line on radical sexual ethics, you don’t get to help kids,” Teetsel says.
One think tank, for example, has initiated a campaign attacking faith-based adoption services. The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) released an advertisement called “Kids pay the price” that makes faith-based adoption services look like “abusive bigots,” Schuttloffel says.
Schuttloffel says groups like MAP are starting sue.
“It’s really nasty. We know this is an issue they have their sights trained on,” he says.
The MAP television ad shows a woman who says, “I am a social worker. I would rather keep a child in foster care than allow them to be adopted by a gay couple.”
Teetsel calls that premise laughable.
“The notion that our social work system is just overrun with anti-gay bigots is inane,” he says.
Some legislators want to hold off on Kansas legislation until there’s a push against Kansas faith-based agencies, but by then, it could be too late, Schuttloffel says.
Once an agency closes, it’s difficult to unring that bell. He points to Texas, where three Catholic Charities adoption services shut down over the threat of litigation. State lawmakers later passed a bill to protect faith-based organizations, but it was too late.
“When you shut down, you lose those people. You lose the funding. You lose the infrastructure. It’s not like flipping a light switch. You can’t just flip it back on,” Schuttloffel says. “They don’t know if they’ll ever be able to get back into that ministry in those places. Once you turn it off, it’s gone.”
And children are the ones who suffer, he says.
Catholic Charities in Kansas have been providing adoption services for more than 60 years.
“The reality is closing down adoption providers does not increase access for anybody. If we want to have the maximum number of kids getting placed, we want to have the maximum number of adoption centers out there,” Schuttloffel says.
Many faith-based organizations focus on special needs and older children, or those who are more difficult to place. For their efforts, they don’t receive taxpayer money. Though they are licensed by the state, they operate as fully private organizations connecting adoptive parents to birth mothers, who Schuttloffel says the Kansas legislation also protects.
“There are birth mothers who want to give that baby a home where the baby will be raised in her faith,” Schuttloffel says. “Some birth mothers want to make sure that the baby has a mom and a dad, because she can’t provide that. It’s an awe-inspiring act.”
The idea that government would stand in the doorway and prevent that from happening frustrates Schuttloffel.
“But our opponents are very much totalitarians on this issue,” he says. “They want to use the state to crush anyone’s beliefs that they don’t like.”