NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee State Senate voted to pass a bill t hat would allow private adoption agencies to deny LGBTQ couples based on the agency's religious or moral beliefs. It was the first bill to be heard at the beginning of the 2020 legislative session on Tuesday.
It passed in the senate with 20 votes for the bill and six against.
The bill would prohibit private licensed child-placing agencies from being required to perform, assist, consent to, refer or participate in child placement for foster care or adoption that would violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions. The private adoption agencies can't be denied an application for a license by the Department of Children's Services or any state or local grant, contract or government program on the basis of its objection due to moral convictions.
"This bill simply protects children to be placed in homes that agree with their stated religious and moral convictions," Sen. Paul Rose (R-Tipton) said.
The bill also says private adoption agencies will be protected from civil action for damages or civil relief due to its refusal to participate in a placement that violates its moral convictions.
Critics of the bill say it targets LGBT families and will be seen as unfavorable to businesses and events that want to come to Nashville.
"They've specifically said that in the recent past — the last six months — a number of conventions have inquired about this bill and about similar bills," Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Davidson County) said. He voted "no" on the bill.
"They have articulated they will not book future events in our state that will effect Knoxville, Memphis, Chattanooga and, of course, Nashville, predominantly," he said.
The vote came after a lengthy discussion that included Senate Speaker and Lt. Governor Randy McNally R-Oak Ridge) leaving his chair to debate the issue on the House floor.
CEO of the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce Joe Woolley called the bill unnecessary and disappointing. He said it wouldn't stop same-sex couples from adopting children, and he had concerns about the possible economic impact.
"This is just blatant discrimination," Woolley said. "It makes Tennessee look like a place that isn't welcoming for people to come raise a family and work."
Woolley added the chamber would continue to help connect same-sex couples with agencies that will allow them to adopt children.
David Fowler, the President of the conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee, was at the Tennessee State Capitol for the vote. He said he was surprised the bill passed and believes it will have a limited impact.
"I don't think the bill did as much as some Christian organizations thought it did," Fowler said. "It also didn't do as much as some opposed to the bill thought it did."
Fowler said the Religious Freedom Protection Act already allows adoption agencies to turn down same-sex couples due to religious beliefs.
House Bill 0836 passed in Tennessee's House of Representatives last April. The Senate bill now heads to the desk of Republican Governor Bill Lee for his signature. The Associated Press reports that Lee intends to sign the bill into law.
This story was originally published by Caroline Sutton on WTVF in Nashville.