Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Friday signed a bill into law that protects adoption and foster agencies that discriminate against prospective LGBTQ parents for religious reasons.
The bill “prohibits a private licensed child-placing agency from being required to perform, assist, consent to, refer, or participate in any child placement for foster care or adoption that would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions,” according to the website for the state’s General Assembly website.
Civil rights groups criticized the bill as not only ostracizing same-sex and LGBTQ couples and families with different religious beliefs, but also called it harmful to foster children awaiting placement in homes.
“Turning away good families simply because they don’t satisfy an agency’s religious preferences would deny thousands of Tennessee children access to the families they urgently want and need,” the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a petition against the bill.
Republican sponsors of the bill argued that such a law would codify protections that already exist in Tennessee and protect adoption agencies from being sued, discriminated against and driven out of business because of their religious beliefs.
The Republican-led Senate last week passed the bill 20-6, with five present and not voting.
State Sen. Steve Dickerson, of Nashville, was the only Republican to vote against the bill last week, arguing during a Senate floor debate that it would harm the state financially, saying that businesses, sporting events and conventions likely to shun Tennessee because of it.
“This will have significant financial impact on our state,” Dickerson said.
Several other states have passed similar measures that allow child welfare agencies to act in accordance with their religious beliefs.