The Georgia Senate approved a bill Friday that allows adoption agencies to use their religion as a justification to deny gay couples.
The Senate’s 35-19 vote on the controversial “religious liberty” legislation sends the bill to the Georgia House, where its prospects are uncertain amid concerns that battles over gay rights could hurt the state’s chances of landing Amazon’s second headquarters.
The legislation, Senate Bill 375, would ensure that taxpayer-funded adoption agencies can turn away married gay couples seeking to adopt children from foster care.
Lawmakers pushing the bill say it would encourage more religious adoption agencies to open in Georgia, but opponents of the measure contend it’s a discriminatory effort that would reduce options for foster children to be adopted.
“The goal is to open as many doors as possible for those children that are in need of homes, and this bill will do that,” said Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, the sponsor of the bill.
Adoption agencies already have the ability to refuse to do business with gay couples, but the legislation would insulate agencies from future changes in state policy. Discrimination based on sexual orientation isn’t prohibited under state and federal laws.
“Why in the world do we need this statute?” asked Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta. “The language of the statute ... tends to put these adoption agencies before the best interests of the child.”
Two years ago, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a similar religious liberty measure, saying it didn’t reflect Georgia’s image as a welcoming state with “warm, friendly and loving people.” That bill would have allowed faith-based organizations to deny services to those who violate their “sincerely held religious belief.”
Deal hasn’t commented on the legislation that passed the Senate on Friday.