Gov. Jeff Colyer traveled to a Valley Center home for boys on Friday to sign legislation that sponsors believe carves an important distinction in state law to allow faith-based organizations providing adoption and foster care services for the state to avoid collaboration with same-sex couples.
“In some circumstances we are seeing faith-based adoption providers leaving states, resulting in fewer providers of adoptions and other critical services,” Colyer said. “This bill is about ensuring that doesn’t happen here and making sure we have a full range of services available to Kansas kids.”
State legislators and advocacy groups opposed and praised the bill, but there is little middle ground on the subject of creating a law that permits organizations with a religious underpinning that do business with state government on adoption and foster care placements to selectively avoid interaction with Kansas gays, lesbians and other adults eager to build a family.
One-third of the 35 adoption organizations in Kansas have a faith-based managerial philosophy. The state has 7,200 children in its foster-care system. Approximately 2,400 are available for adoption.
The position taken by Colyer was denounced by Kansas Democratic Party, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Barnett and others.
Ethan Corson, executive director of the state’s Democratic Party, said the law would hinder adoption services, and damage the state’s economy and image. He said language in the bill conflicted with the governor’s pledge not to tolerate discrimination.
“We now know he was lying,” Corson said. “Everyday Kansans will be hit with costs familiar to residents of states such as North Carolina, which suffered enormous economic loss after enacting anti-LGBTQ legislation.”
Barnett, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor along with Colyer and others, said Colyer appeared to be under the influence of the same people who urged former Gov. Sam Brownback to embrace bad public policy.
“I think this is a moment of truth for Jeff Colyer,” Barnett said. “He signed discrimination into Kansas law and showed that the same people that controlled Brownback will control him.”
Sharice Davids, a lesbian Democrat running for Congress in the 3rd District, said state politicians who embraced the bill were placing “hateful ideology above the civil rights of LGBTQ+ Kansans and the foster children who need devoted, caring parent.”
Rachel Laser, president and chief executive officer of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said religious freedom should never be used to justify discrimination against people or cause them harm.
“That is exactly what this law does. It gives taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies the right to elevate their religious beliefs over what children need,” Laser said.
Laser said Senate Bill 284 worked against the idea of providing children stable, loving homes by turning away “prospective parents, in the name of religion, because they’re a same-sex couple, interfaith, previously divorced or the ‘wrong religion.’ This law is indefensible.”
The law is likely to spark legal challenges in the way similar laws have been the subject of lawsuits in other states, Laser said.
Under the measure, child-placement agencies working in association with the state of Kansas cannot be required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer or otherwise participate in placement of a child for foster care or adoption if it would violate the organization’s sincerely held religious belief.
While there were many who expressed alarm at the bill’s signing, the governor attracted support from Secretary of State Kris Kobach, state legislators and lobbyists.
“Faith-based adoption agencies can continue the great work they do knowing they will always be able to operate in accordance with their faith in Kansas,” said Kobach, who is competing for the Republican nomination for governor.
Rep. Chuck Weber, R-Wichita, said the law would allow faith-based organizations to be partners with state government “without the looming threat of litigation or closure.”
“The most important beneficiaries of this new state law are pregnant mothers seeking help and the children they courageously bring into the world,” Weber said.
Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said he appreciated Colyer’s support for the bill throughout the legislative process in the 2018 session.
Colyer had promised to sign Senate Bill 284, saying it would increase opportunities for needy children to find homes if Catholic Charities and other faith-oriented agencies remained in the state or relocated to Kansas. He transformed the bill into law at Youth Horizons Kinloch Price Boys Ranch near Valley Center. The facility serves boys with severe individual or family challenges.