Sen. Mike Lee-led group pushes his bill to waive LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws for faith-based adoptions, foster care

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Sen. Mike Lee answers questions at a town hall in Draper, Feb. 19, 2020.

The Joint Economic Committee chaired by Utah Sen. Mike Lee issued a report Wednesday saying that his bill exempting faith-based organizations from LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws could help boost foster and adoption services.

One apparent problem under current law, the report says, is that some churches stopped offering adoption or foster services in states where sexual orientation and gender identity laws would require them to place children with same-sex couples, which conflict with their religious beliefs.

“It is difficult to know for sure what the effect of losing faith-based adoption and foster care providers has been,” the report said. “But it is likely to be substantial.”

The report said one solution would be to pass legislation like Lee’s proposed First Amendment Defense Act, which it describes as banning the federal government “from discriminating against individuals or organizations based on their religious or moral beliefs about the definition of marriage.”

However, LGBTQ groups have criticized that bill as seeking to legalize discrimination against them.

The report says states should pass bill similar to Lee’s “to protect organizations' and individuals' free exercise of religion in regards to their beliefs about marriage. Several states have passed such laws and others should follow suit.”

An example of problems, the report said, is that a faith-based group in Arkansas, The CALL, recruits nearly half of the foster parents in that state — and a third of the families it recruited said they would not have become foster families without that group.

It said Catholic Charities in Boston, Illinois and Washington, D.C., have stopped providing adoption and foster care in 2006 because of laws that would require them to place children with same-sex couples.

In 2018, Philadelphia ended a partnership with Catholic Social Services for foster care because it would not agree with the city’s request to place children with same-sex couples. The agency sued but lost in district and appeals courts — but the U.S. Supreme Court said it would hear the case this fall.

Faith-based foster care and adoption agencies in Michigan are also involved in lawsuits saying Michigan is not accommodating their beliefs on marriage.

Problems with faith-based agencies was only one of numerous challenges noted in the report.

Others range from burdensome requirements that disqualify some foster parents to not allowing some qualified children to be placed in adoptions.

“Tragically, the need for foster and adoption families is great” and hindered by such problems, the report said. “In 2018, more than 400,000 children were in foster care, and 18,000 left foster care without a permanent home.”

The report also offered state-by-state rankings for 2018 in some categories.

It said Utah ranked No. 4 for the number of children adopted in less than two years, 80%. It also ranked No. 4 in median length of stay for children in foster care, at 13 months. The Beehive State had the same high ranking for the percentage of children who age out of the foster system, 8%.

In a tweet linking to the new study, Lee said on Wednesday, “There is more we can and should be doing to help more children find a stable loving home.”

Of note, Utah’s predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stopped providing adoption services in 2014. It said the change was not because of issues with same-sex couples, but because cultural changes had led to few children being put up for adoption by its members.