Late Thursday afternoon in a crowded state Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, Sen. William Ligon, R-St. Simons Island, introduced an amendment to a lengthy and complex bill geared to overhaul the state’s adoption system.
It caused some amount of controversy.
The amendment provided that adoption agencies that receive state funds do not have to do business with people who do not line up with their mission. According to reports, it was accepted by many in the room the amendment was to shield agencies that, for religious reasons, do not want to place children with same-sex adoptive parents.
“I offered the language to ensure that the state is able to partner with as many child placement agencies as possible, as long as they meet the standard of care that the state requires,” Ligon told The News Friday. “We should leverage the expertise and special service sectors of these agencies. All agencies cannot be all things to all people. We need to continue to recognize that fact and work with them accordingly so that the state can maximize the number of children who can be placed in loving homes.”
Ligon said whether the agencies’ scopes are broad or limited, each bit of assistance helps, especially if it means being able to help one more child.
“In addition, this language ensures that the state is not being adversarial with these child-placement agencies attempting to force them to go outside their policies or areas of expertise,” Ligon said. “The state must respect the overall structure of these organizations, their limitations and their missions as Georgia has had the habit of doing. We need to put this into law so that child-placement agencies have a solid legal foundation and confidence that these long-standing policies will continue to be honored now and in the future.”
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, however, the amendment was over the objections of Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, the chief sponsor of the bill, who said he did not know about it until a couple hours before the committee meeting.
It passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 7-4 vote, moving on to the Senate Rules Committee before it likely goes to the Senate floor for a full vote.
Jeff Graham, executive director of the LGBT rights group Georgia Unites, decried the amendment following its passage.
“In a shameful act of political maneuvering, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee just tainted a good adoption bill by adding a blatantly discriminatory amendment that seeks to allow adoption agencies — even ones that receive public funding — to discriminate against same-sex couples and refuse to work with prospective LGBT parents,” Graham said in a statement.
He went on to say limiting the pool of prospective adoptive parents puts children in harm’s way, and that LGBT couples are as qualified as anyone else to provide quality home lives for adoptable children.
Ligon said his amendment actually helps provide more opportunity for those children.
“The reason we need this in the official code is that some states have seen an exodus of child placement agencies, and Georgia cannot afford to see that happen here,” Ligon said. “We had over 13,000 children in foster care last year; but only between 4,000-5,000 foster homes available. Of the children in foster care, at least 2,300 of those had a permanency goal of adoption.
“We had a little over 4,000 or so foster homes available, so Georgia needs all resources available to fill the need. Keep in mind, too, that these private agencies facilitate many adoptions every year that are entirely outside the state foster-care system.”
Another issue is whether the amendment runs afoul of federal anti-discrimination laws. State Division of Family and Children Services Director Bobby Cagle said during the committee meeting that it could put hundreds of millions of dollars in jeopardy that DFCS would receive from the federal government otherwise.
“Georgia legislation simply allows a private agency to decide to not be paid using public funds for foster-care and adoption services,” Ligon said. “This legislation does not address a situation where a private agency has accepted public funds for a particular service.”