By: Krista Ellis
Currently, about 13,000 children remain in foster care in the state of Georgia, many of those children waiting to be adopted by a loving family. On February 23, 2018, the Senate of the Georgia State Assembly passed a bill to allow child-placing agencies, such as an adoption or foster care agencies, to decline to accept referrals from the Department of Human Services (“the Department”) and decline to perform services based on the child-placing agency’s “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The bill would also prohibit the Department from taking “adverse action” against agencies “exercising this religious freedom.” If passed by the Georgia State House of Representatives, this bill would permit adoption and foster care agencies across the state to reject applications of cohabitating couples, inter-faith families, single parents, and LGBTQ families, regardless of being otherwise qualified. Additionally, the bill would allow taxpayer-funded agencies to refuse to serve LGBTQ youth.
The state of Georgia already permits religiously affiliated adoption agencies to work exclusively with perspective adoptive parents and families that align with similar religious beliefs. The passage of this bill would expand the “religious filter” to permit discrimination on behalf of taxpayer-funded agencies and ultimately prevent qualified and loving families access to adoption services, and consequently children from being adopted. Those in favor of the bill argue that the bill will “lead to more adoption opportunities.” However, those in opposition note the clear attempt of the Georgia legislature to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. GLAAD CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, commented, “This bill is not about freedom of religion, which is one of our nation’s fundamental values, but rather about imposing one’s personal religious beliefs on others to discriminate against loving foster or adoptive parents, simply because of their identity, and deny services to LGBTQ youth.” Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, indicated, “[The bill] creates an unnecessary hardship for potential LGBTQ adoptive or foster parents in Georgia and primarily harms the children looking for a loving home.”
The “Keep Faith in Adoptions and Foster Care Act” places the religious beliefs of a taxpayer-funded agency before the best interests of a child waiting to be adopted from the foster care system. The “best interest of the child” standard resonates throughout the field of family law, and should serve as a guidepost for decisions made by child welfare service organizations. It undoubtedly goes against the best interest of a child to deny the support and love of a qualified family merely because the perspective adoptive family may not immolate the tenets of the faith of the adoption or foster care agency.
Furthermore, allowing agencies to discriminate under the guise of religion will likely decrease the number of perspective adoptive parents and families by eliminating entire groups based merely on sexual orientation and/or gender identification. The reduction of perspective adoptive parents will adversely affect the children in foster care, because a reduction of families permitted to adopt will lead children to waiting in care longer to meet a loving family.
LGBTQ activists around the nation call on the Georgia House of Representatives to say no to discrimination by voting no on the bill when it reaches the floor in the weeks to come.
 Discriminatory Anti-LGBT Adoption Bill Advances to Full Senate, LGBTQ Lobby Day March 1st!, Georgia Equality (Feb. 20, 2018), http://georgiaequality.org/2018/02/discriminatory-anti-lgbt-adoption-bill-advances-full-senate-lgbtq-lobby-day-march-1st/ [hereinafter Discriminatory].
 S.B. 375, 154th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2018).
 Nick Morrow, Georgia Senate Passes Anti-LGBTQ Bill; HRC Calls on House to Reject It, Human Rights Campaign (Feb. 23, 2018), https://www.hrc.org/blog/georgia-senate-passes-anti-lgbtq-bill-hrc-now-calls-on-house-to-reject-it.
 S.B. 375, 154th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess.
 See Discriminatory, supra note 1 (noting that the bill, SB 375, would allow taxpayer-funded agencies to deny services to same-sex couples as well as refuse service to LGBTQ youth).
 Patrick Saunders, Georgia Senate Passes Anti-LGBTQ Adoption Bill, Georgia Voice (Feb. 23, 2018, 1:06 PM), https://thegavoice.com/georgia-senate-passes-anti-lgbtq-adoption-bill/ (quoting Georgia Senator Ligon stating that agencies desire assurance that they’ll be able to exercise their religious freedom).
 Morrow, supra note 4 (indicating reasons the House of Representatives should reject SB 375).
 Maggie Garrett, Opposition to Georgia’s Anti-LGBTQ Adoption Bill SB 375 Is Growing, Wall of Separation Blog (Mar. 1, 2018), https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/opposition-to-georgias-anti-lgbtq-adoption-bill-sb-375-is-growing (suggesting that some children may never leave foster care if the legislation is passed).