The Alabama legislature approved a bill on Tuesday to protect adoption and foster care agencies that refuse a service based their religious beliefs, joining a body of conservative states that have countered growing rights for LGBT people with so-called religious freedom laws.
The bill echoes similar laws in Michigan and South Dakota, which critics — and some supporters — say are designed to let agencies to turn away prospective parents because they are gay or transgender.
The text of the bill, however, doesn't mention LGBT people or same-sex marriage. Rather, the Alabama Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act, as it's titled, bans the state from penalizing or refusing to license an organization because it "declines to carry out an activity that conflicts with the religious beliefs of the agency."
The bill, which has yet to be approved by the governor, applies to all child placement services, including those that receive state money.
It is not clear what effect the bill may have, given that the state doesn't have a general LGBT nondiscrimination law.
Some child-placement providers already discriminate against LGBT people with impunity, Alex Smith, the board chair of the LGBT advocacy group Equality Alabama, told BuzzFeed News.
"We are aware that agencies are already doing this, but this bill will give discrimination the state's seal of approval," said Smith, whose group tried to block the bill along with the Equality Federation.
"We value the place that faith has in many people's lives," Smith added in a phone call, "but using one's faith to discriminate against another person is wrong, and should not be made the law of the land."
He added that most members of the Republican-controlled legislature "have refused to listen to what we have to say."
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Rich Wingo, who did not respond to questions from BuzzFeed News, told AL.com the bill is "not about prohibiting gay and lesbian couples from adopting or fostering a child."
He said, rather, "It's about protecting and not discriminating against faith-based agencies that, due to their religious beliefs, could have their right to choose where to place a child taken away from them."
Introduced as House Bill 24, the measure was approved by the House in March and by the Senate this month. The House voted 87 to 0 on Tuesday, with 6 abstaining, to concur with an amendment in the Senate, thereby sending it to Gov. Kay Ivey, who can sign the bill into law or allow it to become law by taking no action.
Yet Smith was also hopeful that Gov. Ivey may try to dial back the bill by inserting an amendment to ban publicly funded agencies from discriminating on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Both chambers of the state legislature would need to concur with the amendment.
Dominic Holden is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Dominic Holden at email@example.com.
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