By Bill Mefford
If you are a faith leader and want to sign the letter fighting discrimination in adoption and foster care agencies, please sign here.
I know we are all desperate for good news, so last week was a good one. The House passed the Equality Act which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in key areas, including employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit and financing, and jury service. In this current administration’s repeated attacks on the LGBTQ community (as well as the attacks by Evangelical Nationalists and the United Methodist Church), this is nothing but good news.
There is another important area to fight discrimination against the LGBTQ community and that is allowing state adoption and foster care agencies that receive taxpayer funds, but yet, to discriminate against LGBT families and non-evangelical Christian families. This issue has been creeping up in numerous states as Evangelical Nationalists are getting the green light from this administration to discriminate against LGBTQ people at will.
Using foster care and adoption as weapons in their culture war attacks makes me especially sick to my stomach because I am an adoptive parent. And we went through a Christian adoption network in the Dallas/Fort Worth area a number of years ago, though we were the only white family at the time of our adoption process who wanted to adopt transracially. Can you imagine? Literally hundreds of Christian families (you had to be a Christian to go through this network) and we were the only ones. But I have zero regrets because we were given the greatest gift we would ever know: our son Isaiah. I know firsthand how important the adoption process is. And not just for the child. Me and my family have been forever changed by the incredible baby we brought home with us on February 18, 2002.
My son, Isaiah, was just one day old when I got to hold him for the first time. I knew at that moment that he would be my son forever. It was such a powerful and beautiful experience, one of the most joyful memories in my life. Because Isaiah has been such a source of enormous joy and love, I care deeply about the hard and wonderful work of foster care and adoption agencies. That is why I have been so concerned about the many states pursuing legislation that would use religion to discriminate against prospective foster parents, ultimately denying children – like my son Isaiah – the loving homes they need and denying families the amazing gifts of joy – like Isaiah – that they can receive.
This is a particularly virulent form of discrimination; to ignore the best interests of the child because of a fundamentalist misunderstanding of Scripture and a bigoted worldview. Right now, more than 427,000 children are in foster care and more than half of these children will be forced to wait more than two years for placement. And there are many families who want to adopt and/or provide foster care, but they are turned away by adoptive or foster care agencies that receive state or federal funding because the families are LGBTQ people or they are not evangelicals.
Seriously, this is happening. A young mother in South Carolina, Aimee Maddonna, had two special needs kids of her own and felt called to welcome other children into her home. She applied with the largest taxpayer-funded foster care provider in her state, Miracle Hill Ministries, and they eagerly worked with her so that she could start providing foster care as soon as possible. But all of that changed when this taxpayer-funded organization asked her what church she attended. Aimee is Catholic, but that is the wrong religion for Miracle Hill who demand – once again, using taxpayer funds – that families be evangelicals.
Under any normal administration we would expect the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to crack down on this blatant form of discrimination. But this, as you well know, is NOT a normal administration. In January of this year, HHS issued a policy allowing all government-funded foster care agencies in South Carolina to explicitly reject parents and volunteers who don’t share their rigid religious beliefs.
This is so unbelievably harmful to both children and parents. There are so many kids in need of safe and loving homes and many states like South Carolina and the trump administration are insisting on ignoring the best interests of the child so that they can curry favor with bigoted, fundamentalist Christians. Most tragic of all, over 20,000 youth each year will age out of foster care each year without being adopted, placing them at higher risk of incarceration, being trafficked, homelessness, and unemployment. We need loving families - in whatever form they come in - to provide loving spaces for these children.
So, we have to fight against this form of discrimination. I hope you will join me in this fight. State legislative sessions are coming to a close, but bills to codify discrimination against LGBT and non-Protestant Christian families when it comes to providing foster care or adoption will continue to show up. One significant group that state legislators need to hear from are faith leaders. I hope you will join me by signing this letter from faith leaders – and urging everyone in your ministerial networks to sign as well – so that we can collectively send a message to state legislatures to no longer enact harmful legislation that keeps children away from loving families. Let’s keep the best interest of children as our highest goal and eliminate discrimination entirely from the foster care and adoption process at the same time.