Should faith-based adoption providers have to agree to placing children with same-sex couples?

Illinois, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia have adopted policies that would require this, in violation of some agencies’ deeply held beliefs that children deserve a mom and a dad—effectively forcing these agencies out of adoption and foster care service.

Legislation re-introduced earlier this month by Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., would prohibit that kind of discrimination by the federal government and any state receiving certain federal funding. The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act would protect the right of child welfare providers, including private and faith-based adoption and foster care agencies, to continue providing valuable services to families and children.

There’s no shortage of kids who need help. Every year about 400,000 children spend time in our nation’s foster care system, with roughly 100,000 eligible for adoption. Many bounce from home to home and are never adopted. Many will “age-out” of foster care, facing increased risk for low academic achievement and poverty.

As we point out in a Heritage backgrounder, policies that discriminate against faith-based adoption providers do nothing to help children and unnecessarily limit the number of good agencies working on their behalf.

>>> Read more: “Adoption, Foster Care, and Conscience Protection”

Under the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, the federal government and states receiving certain federal child welfare funds would be prohibited from discriminating against a child welfare provider simply because the provider declines to provide a service that conflicts with their religious or moral convictions.

This is good policy. The efforts of faith-based organizations and the work of more than 1,000 private, licensed foster care and adoption providers across the United States are helping to increase the number of children adopted every year.

Private providers handle roughly a quarter of the domestic adoptions by non-relatives that occur in the United States. Faith-based agencies also provide spiritual, emotional and relational support to families that seek to adopt or become foster parents, which they are less likely to receive from state-run agencies.

Foster care and adoption policy should seek to increase the number of families willing to foster and potentially adopt children, not risk reducing the number of agencies or families working for children. Provided these agencies meet basic requirements, they should be free to operate according to their values, especially their reasonable and religiously informed beliefs about marriage.

Protecting religious liberty in this instance takes nothing away from anyone. Couples who do not wish to work with faith-based agencies because of a difference of belief are free to work with another private provider or directly with the state offering foster care services. A diversity of providers only increases the chances more children will end up in permanent, loving families.

America’s foster care programs are in dire need of systemic reformFoster care and adoption policy always should put the best interests of children first, and that means removing barriers to families seeking to adopt and providers seeking to place children in loving homes.