South Dakota Bill Could Bar Same-Sex & Single Parent Adoptions

South Dakota Bill Could Bar Same-Sex & Single Parent Adoptions

Spending more than two years going through criminal background checks, submitting financial disclosure statements and attending parenting classes before they became foster parents, Billy Mawhiney and his husband Kyle Margheim say it wasn't an easy process. The couple stuck it out thought because they knew they wanted to be parents.

Now they are worried over a bill that is making its way through the South Dakota Legislature which could eliminate that option for them in the future. If it is approved, Senate Bill 149 would protect religious or faith-based foster care and adoption agencies that deny child placement to same-sex couples and single parents. Those groups and agencies could however still benefit from state funds and contracts and wouldn't face retribution from the state for discrimination.

"It adds a religious litmus test to foster and adoptive parents," they said. "It’s not an easy vetting process as it is."

The sponsors of the bill and religious advocacy groups in the state say the measure is needed to protect the child-placement groups' religious freedom. Opponents say it would legalize discrimination against those who don't hold those same values or who don't meet the "traditional family" model.

Sen. Alan Solano, R-Rapid City, said he wanted to ensure that groups with "sincerely held" religious views are able to place children with traditional families or with other parents that they deem appropriate.

Currently more than a dozen private agencies work in South Dakota to place foster children and find families for children to be adopted. They are licensed through the state, however if they don't pull in state funds for their programs they can set the standards they see fit for families looking to adopt or foster children.

Six organizations currently in the state of South Dakota receive state funds and as a result must comply with state and federal standards that bar them from imposing restrictions based on religion, sexual orientation, marital status, race or gender identity.

"It basically codifies discrimination and prevents the state from taking any adverse action against the agency," said Libby Skarin, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota.

Senate Bill 149 will have it's first hearing in the House Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday (02/15/2017). If approved in committee, the bill would move to the House of Representatives.

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