LGBTQ Parents in Congress Maloney and Craig, and Hill Lead Letter to HHS Opposing Religious Litmus Test in Adoption, Foster Care
WASHINGTON – LGBTQ parents Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) and Rep. Angie Craig (MN-02) and fellow Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Katie Hill (CA-25), led a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar opposing his department’s decision to issue a waiver to South Carolina allowing the state to sidestep Obama-era regulations preventing child welfare agencies from discriminating on a religious basis. Last month, HHS issued the waiver to South Carolina allowing state-contracted child welfare agencies to discriminate against otherwise qualified prospective parents who do not share their religious beliefs. Since the waiver was issued, President Trump has spoken out in support of continued federal funding for foster care agencies that turn away same-sex couples applying to be foster and adoptive parents. Last Friday, the Washington Post reported that the administration intends to propose broad authorization for foster care and adoption agencies nationwide to discriminate in child welfare services and “reject LGBTQ parents, non-Christians, and others.” Ninety-five members of the House signed the letter.
“Our goal should be finding loving parents for kids who need them – that’s all that matters,” said Rep. Maloney, the first and only out member of Congress from New York and a father of three. “This isn’t about religious freedom – it’s a taxpayer-funded license to discriminate that will only hurt people – the innocent children who need a good home and the parents who are ready, willing, and able to provide one but are turned away.”
"I urge Secretary Azar to stand with all loving families," said Rep. Craig, who has four sons with her wife Cheryl. "As a mother who faced adoption challenges decades ago, I cannot stand by and allow this decision to proceed unchecked. Turning away prospective parents on the basis of an agency’s religious litmus test is harmful to families, to children, and to religious minorities and the LGBTQ community.”
“Through my work as the Executive Director of California's largest homelessness nonprofit, I became very familiar with the work of foster organizations and our critical need to find displaced children loving homes,” said Rep. Hill. “This system has absolutely no room for discrimination – our first and only priority is making sure kids are given safe and nurturing homes and that parents who are looking to provide those safe and nurturing homes have the opportunity to do so."
The Rev. Stan J. Sloan, CEO of Family Equality Council, said: “We are grateful to members of Congress for standing with the faith, child welfare, and LGBTQ communities to say ‘no’ to discrimination in foster care and adoption, thus ensuring that America’s 440,000 foster children are not needlessly denied the loving, supportive families they deserve.”
Rabbi Jack Moline, President of Interfaith Alliance, stated: "By granting [the South Carolina] waiver, HHS has placed the full weight of the federal government behind policies that presume there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ religion – exactly the type of religious favoritism the Establishment Clause prohibits. Congress cannot stand idly by as foster youth, people of different faiths, and LGBTQ prospective parents bear the burden of state-sponsored discrimination."
Chris James-Brown, President & CEO of Child Welfare League of America, stated: “We recognize and support the critical and important role that religious-affiliated agencies have played and continue to play in our nation’s human services programs. The decision by HHS, however, would offer broad authority to violate the central principle of the nation’s child welfare system by not placing the best interest of children and youth first.”
In January, HHS granted the governor of South Carolina a waiver exempting federally-funded child welfare agencies in the state from Obama-era regulations preventing religious discrimination. The decision will allow state-contracted and federally-funded religious child welfare organizations to reject prospective parents’ bids to adopt or foster children on a religious basis.
Rep. Maloney has successfully defeated measures allowing discrimination with federal dollars in the past. Last year, he whipped votes on the House floor against an amendment introduced by Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO), which would have prevented the use of federal funding to pay for hormone therapy and gender affirmation surgery for members of the armed services who are transgender. That amendment ultimately failed to pass in a Republican-controlled House. In 2016, Rep. Maloney successfully led the charge to remove anti-LGBTQ language from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would have rolled back a 2014 Obama executive order preventing discrimination against LGBTQ people in federal contracting.
The text of the letter is available below and an original copy can be found here.
Dear Secretary Azar,
We write to you to express our strong opposition to a waiver your Department granted to South Carolina from nondiscrimination requirements for its state-contracted child welfare agencies. Under this waiver, Miracle Hill Ministries – and other South Carolina faith-based state-contracted foster care agencies – will be permitted to continue to turn away foster and adoptive parents who do not share the agency’s specific Christian beliefs. This harmful decision allows federally-funded child welfare agencies in South Carolina to discriminate on the basis of religion – an egregious violation of the very principles our nation and our child welfare system were founded upon.
This waiver wrongly uses the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a justification to bypass nondiscrimination protections that apply to volunteers and parents in the foster care and adoption system. This means that taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies could discriminate against foster parents based on their religious beliefs, ignoring the best interests of our most vulnerable children and exacerbating the shortage of qualified foster parents. This misinterpretation of the original intent of RFRA violates the U.S. Constitution by allowing religion to be used to harm others. It represents a drastic departure from long-standing federal protections that have applied to partnerships between the government and faith-based providers for decades.
Allowing child placing agencies to ignore federal nondiscrimination requirements undermines the primary rule of child welfare: that the best interests of children come first. Permitting these agencies to use a religious litmus test to turn away qualified adoptive and foster parents reduces the number of loving families available to the over 4,000 children in South Carolina’s foster care system and the more than 400,000 children in foster care nationwide. Many of those children live in group homes, are separated from siblings, or age out of foster care without ever becoming part of a family because of the shortage of foster and adoptive families to care for them. With nearly one in five foster youth identifying as LGBTQ, this puts LGBTQ children particularly at risk. When diverse foster and adoptive families are turned away, these youth are harmed by not finding accepting, affirming families who will love them for who they are and respect their identities. This reprehensible decision demonstrates that extremists within the Trump administration value a narrow set of religious beliefs over the need to find loving, stable homes for children currently in state care.
We are writing to express our strong condemnation of this waiver because it will deny children the safe, loving, and happy families they deserve and turn away qualified potential parents. We strongly urge you to stop this despicable taxpayer-funded discrimination and uphold the essential nondiscrimination protections that ensure that every child has a loving home.