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Opinion: Should adoption agencies be allowed to deny services to same-sex couples on religious grounds?

Nick Lingerfelt and Isaac O. Weston

Nick Lingerfelt: No.

At the beginning of this month, multiple bills were filed in the Tennessee state legislature that would allow adoption agencies with “sincerely held religious beliefs†to deny services to same-sex parents because of religious objections.

Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), one of the senators who filed a bill about this issue this legislative session, pointed to the fact that an adoption agency in New York closed because its state said they could not turn away same-sex couples. I guess he was suggesting it would be detrimental not to allow agencies to do what they pleased if all they would do was close. In my opinion, that was an overreaction on the agency’s part. Just because they had to consider same-sex couples, they shuttered operations. It really was their way or the highway.

Tennessee, the state, currently allows same-sex couples and single persons to adopt children. This bill would just allow agencies to turn same-sex couples away. This could also lead to a single unmarried person being turned away from adopting a child by an agency because of religious reasons.

Cornell University identified 79 studies about the fitness of same-sex parents, and of those, 75 concluded same-sex parents provided just as good an environment for their children as opposite-sex parents.

A 2018 study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that adult children with two female parents fared just as well with their mental health as their counterparts with opposite-sex parents.

A study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics that followed 70 gay fathers who had children through surrogacy, 125 lesbian mothers who had children through donor insemination and 195 heterosexual couples who had children through spontaneous conception in Italy found that children with same-sex parents fared well psychologically and socially.

In Florida, population growth, budget cuts and the opioid epidemic have caused a rise in the number of children in the state’s care. The Community Based Care of Central Florida has led an effort beginning in early 2018 to recruit single and LGBTQ people to become foster parents to meet this need. If there is a critical need for homes for children, then we should not turn people away who want to be parents.

While LGBTQ people get beat up on by many religious people, Christianity was used to support slavery for hundreds of years. Several key people in the Bible — including Abraham, the father of Christianity, Islam and Judaism — had slaves. The Ten Commandments mention slavery twice (Ex. 20:10, 17). The apostle Paul commanded slaves to obey their masters (Eph. 6:5 - 8). Also, many key figures in the Bible had multiple wives, but that, of course, is not a mainstream practice anymore. Because these practices were done in the Bible, they were viewed as normal things to do. If the Bible was used to support these practices we now condemn, then I do not see how discrimination based on sexual orientation could be any different if we are using the same set of teachings to support a certain opinion. It still says all these things, according to the Bible I have.

I just do not see the mounting evidence that same-sex couples are any different from opposite-sex couples. I also do not see how we can use the Bible to support turning same-sex couples away if you are not also going to contend with defending slavery, having multiple wives and being against single parenting.

Isaac O. Weston: Tennessee adoption bill will benefit all parties involved 

Earlier this month, Tennessee composed a bill that, if passed, will allow religious adoption agencies to deny adoption to same-sex couples, unmarried couples and single people.

The bill, which had renditions passed in Kansas and Oklahoma last year, parallels situations like Colorado’s Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple in 2012. Phillips’ decision provoked controversy, but on June 4, 2018, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of his religious freedoms.

Public businesses are not allowed to discriminate against customers due to race, origin, religion or gender, according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but because the act never specifies sexual orientation, Phillips is legally allowed to act upon his religious beliefs.

If a religious organization’s mission is protected by both state and federal laws, a religious person working for this religious organization can deny a service that would conflict with the organization’s mission, but if the same religious person worked for a secular organization, they cannot deny a service solely because of personal convictions. That is why Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk, was not legally allowed to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses in 2015.

If lawmakers were fighting to prohibit adoption to anyone who wasn’t married or straight, then I would disagree with the law, and the Supreme Court would, too. I believe a child being adopted is more beneficial than the alternative, which could be a child spending an upbringing in a manifold of homes and families.

This bill caters to all parties. Same-sex couples, unmarried couples and single people are still legally allowed to adopt, and faith-based agencies can practice their beliefs. For that reason, I agree with Tennessee defending religious organizations while still granting anyone the option to adopt.

But why do some agencies allow anyone to adopt while others are more exclusive? 

“You have to contend with the fact that it’s necessary for kids to have models for both sexes and that means accepting that the sexes are different and that both sexes play their role,†said Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and psychology professor at the University of Toronto. “Kids in intact heterosexual families where the father is present do way better on multiple indices than kids who are part of single-parent families.â€

Elementary students in households with both same-sex and opposite-sex parents fared similarly in externalizing and internalizing behaviors, which proved “children have just as much chance to thrive with gay parents as with straight parents,†according to a 2016 study from the American Psychological Association.

So, which is it?

A 2012 study from the University of Texas at Austin focused on a larger and more diverse sample pool than Psychology Today and discovered that children between ages 18 and 39 whose “parents had same-sex relationships before the subjects had reached 18, were more likely to suffer from a broad range of emotional and social problems.†The study showed “intact families with both biological parents who were married to each other, lesbian mothers, gay fathers, heterosexual single parents, parents who later divorced, cohabiting parents, parents who adopted the respondent and other (such as a deceased parent),†and found 80 possible outcomes. Children of gay and lesbian couples “fared worse in 77 of the 80 outcome measures.† 

I believe this new bill makes everyone a beneficiary. Whether you’re religious or non-religious, straight or LGBTQ or married or single, you would still be able to exercise your beliefs. 

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