On the morning of January 17th, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a bill that will allow religious adoption agencies to deny any service to LGBTQ+ couples. The law took effect immediately and allows any and all adoption agencies the right to refuse to take place in child placement if doing so would violate the agencies written religious or moral conviction policies.
In an interview with USA Today, Governor Lee’s spokesperson Gillum Ferguson stated, “This bill is centered around protection the religious liberty of Tennesseans and that’s why he signed it.” The bill was signed even after several groups including the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union urged the Governor not to.
The Reverend Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, also weighed in on the situation. “Other states, including Michigan, have implemented similar laws and had them halted in court,” said Beach-Ferrara in an interview with USA Today.
“This law is clearly discriminatory,” Beach-Ferrara continued. “As long as the LGBTQ+ community continues to be targeted by discriminatory laws, we will turn to the courts for recourse.”
In 2015, shortly after the Supreme Court legalized Gay Marriage, Michigan legislature passed a law that allowed adoption and foster care agencies to cite religious convictions when refusing to work with LGBTQ+ couples who wanted to adopt.
In 2017, however, two couples filed lawsuits challenging the Michigan health and human services department contract with taxpayer-funded and state-contracted agencies that refused to work with same-sex couples.
Business is a large part of the agencies as a whole, so some students discussed it with business ethics in mind. “I think the bill is fair,” said Micah Schultz (’22). “I believe that it allows businesses to have that religious freedom in business, but I think it’s a bad way of doing business because they are actively discriminating against a particular group.”
Attorney General Dana Nessel, who was the first lesbian to be elected to statewide office in the state of Michigan, is most well-known for her representation of the 2015 Supreme Court case that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage
Nessel was a large reason that the bill in Michigan was revoked in the first place. “Limiting the opportunity for a child to be adopted or fostered by a loving home no only goes against the state’s goal of finding a home for every child, it is a direct violation of the contract every child-placing agency enters into with the state.”
However, state senate majority leader Mike Shirkey was not in agreement with the decision against the bill. “I’m just disappointed,” said Shirkey in an interview with USA Today. “This proves our point that the attorney general is unwilling to defend the laws in this state.”
Later on Shirkey also stated, “Faith-based adoption agencies will have to stop operating in Michigan because of the lack of taxpayer-funded support.”
Many students have had a lot to think about when it comes to the topic. “I think if we are going to have religious freedom, we need to have freedom based on people’s family types too,” said Brandon Nicholson (’21). “I think it is unfair to base a families ability to parent based on who they spend the rest of their life with. Their parenting ability should be based on how they parent, not who they are with.”
Some students have been taking a more legal stance when considering “Tennessee was not the first to have something like this, so the recent signing of this bill might add to the increase in similar bills throughout other states,” said Kennedy Sutton (’23). “There might be an appearance of a few more laws, but I doubt that it will become a majority situation.”
While the bill may be legally sound, many still believe that morally it is unjust. “Personally I think the bill, although legally just, is morally wrong,” said Jordan Jackson (’21). “Discriminating against LGBT+ couples under the guise of religious expression is discrimination and outright wrong. Agencies are legally in the right but that does not mean LGBT+ couples are any less capable or qualified to care for and make a home for a child. Love is love no matter what.”