LGBT Groups Pressure Oklahoma Governor to Veto Adoption Bill

By Dustin Siggins Published on May 10, 2018

LGBT activists say Oklahoma faces boycotts if Governor Mary Fallin signs a bill protecting religious-based foster and adoption groups. Religious leaders say Senate Bill 1140 protects these groups from making placements that violate their religious beliefs.

Senate Bill 1140 passed the Oklahoma House 56-21 and the Senate 33-7 on May 3. Fallin has until May 18 to take action. If she does nothing, it’s considered a “pocket veto.” The bill will not go into effect without her signature. State lawmakers cannot override a pocket veto.

SB 1140 protects adoption groups against lawsuits, the loss of public funding, and certificate revocation by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services if the sole reason for any of these actions is child placement rejection based on morals or religion. Opponents say that it is state-funded bigotry because groups can be selective while receiving state and federal dollars.

The bill is similar to laws in Virginia, Rhode Island, Michigan, Texas, North Dakota, Mississippi, and South Dakota.

JoDee Winterhof of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC, a LGBT activist group)  slammed the bill. “Oklahoma’s legislators are throwing kids under the bus to create a ‘license to discriminate,’” he said. “This bill does nothing to improve the outcomes for children in care. It shrinks the pool of prospective parents and is a blatant attempt to discriminate against LGBTQ Oklahomans.”

The state’s Catholic bishops praised lawmakers. Bishops David Konderla and Paul Coakley said proponents “understand … the importance of not only protecting faith-based services, but of the dire need to find more families for” Oklahoma’s foster children.

Bill author Senator Greg Treat defended SB 1140. “We are not banning same-sex adoption if we adopt this bill. We are not banning someone who’s been married less than three years from adopting or foster caring with this bill. We are not banning someone who has a sexual orientation different than you or I. We are not banning someone who has a gender identity different than you or I believe.”

A Convoluted Path for a Controversial Bill

SB 1140 first passed the Oklahoma Senate in March. A House amendment was added to deny state and federal funding to groups that are selective. The Senate later stripped out the language. Both chambers sent the new version to Fallin. (Here is a timeline of votes and amendments.)

The Human Rights Campaign claims SB 1140 “would allow child welfare organizations … to turn away qualified Oklahomans seeking to care for a child in need.” The group defines “qualified Oklahomans” as the following: “LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a religious objection.”

Freedom Oklahoma Executive Director Troy Stevenson said a Fallin signature “will cost … Oklahoma business revenue.” He said “corporations across the country” have shown they “are not interested in relocating or expanding their operations in a state that actively discriminates.”

Similar pressure was applied against Indiana in 2015. Then-Governor Mike Pence had signed a religious liberty bill. North Carolina was targeted in 2016 over House Bill 2, which was enacted to protect privacy rights in schools and businesses. Both states reversed course after boycotts by entertainers, state governments, and corporations.

But Oklahomans for Life urged Fallin to sign the bill. In an e-mail to backers, the group describes SB 1140 as “vitally important legislation” which “promotes life by encouraging adoption.” According to the e-mail, “Senate Bill 1140 will result in more … groups being able to assist in facilitating adoptions, and that will result in fewer babies being aborted.”

[All emphasis was in the original text of the e-mail.]

According to Oklahoma News 4, Coakley said that SB 1140 “will enshrine in Oklahoma statute” a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. Coakley said the ruling found “adoption agencies” which “receive state funds or other support cannot be denied the right to exercise their religious mission.”

Dr. D. Hance Dilbeck, Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said in a statement that state senators took a “bold step to ensure religious liberty protections for faith-based adoption agencies. …”

Oklahoma State Rep. George Faught supports the bill. He told The Stream it provides “protection for faith-based adoption services to continue their great work … without compromising their religious values.” He said SB 1140 “did not force anyone to use faith-based organizations.” He also said, “the left’s intolerance is toward those who don’t believe like they do.”

Will Fallin Buckle?

An anonymous source told The Stream that Fallin’s staff may be advising her to veto SB 1140. Staff may be worried about pressure from LGBT groups. Faught did not comment on this when asked by The Stream.

A spokesperson for Fallin’s office told The Stream, “The governor’s office is receiving heavy traffic … from both sides of the issue regarding SB 1140. The governor is discussing the measure with her staff as well as reviewing input from citizens, groups, agencies, and others.”

One Oklahoma activist told The Stream that staff were probably not advising Fallin this way. The activist encouraged backers of SB 1140 to urge Fallin to sign the bill.

Would you like to weigh in? You can reach Fallin’s office at (405) 521-2342 during business hours and after hours at (405) 522-8857, extension 6.

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