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Is the new Tennessee bill in violation of the United States Constitution?

In a controversial move, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a bill that allows adoption agencies to refuse to place adoptive children with same-sex parents. The law, which already took effect, gives adoption agencies who believe that same-sex households violate the agency’s written religious or moral beliefs. According to the governor and supporters of the bill, the purpose of the measure is to protect religious freedom. Now, adoption agencies with a religious focus can freely deny LGBTQ parents without fear of a lawsuit or loss of public funding. Many are questioning, however, is this bill legal on the federal level? Same-sex prospective adoptive parents in Texas and elsewhere may also be wondering whether they should be concerned about rejection of their adoption application.

Tennessee Governor Receives Backlash

While supporters of the Tennessee bill have stated that it is important for the protection of religious freedom among private organizations, others fear that it will have a negative effect on families. Currently, there are over 440,000 children in foster care, according to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children. The American Civil Liberties Union states that rejecting good families simply due to their sexual orientation would potentially deny thousands of children a loving home.

While Tennessee is currently in the national spotlight for the measure, it is not the only state to codify this sentiment. Ten other states have laws on the books that allow children welfare agencies to act according to their religious beliefs, which often means denying same-sex parents. Texas is one such state, along with Alabama, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Virginia.

Texas passed its religious exemption law for adoption agencies in 2017. Since that time, the number of both adoptive and foster homes has deceased. At the federal level, there is not currently a law that explicitly prevents adoption agencies that receive federal and state funds from rejecting same-sex families. Opponents of the religious exemption laws in Tennessee and the other ten states are now suggesting that such a law be passed so as to prevent discrimination and assist in the much-needed placement of the thousands of children in Texas and elsewhere across the U.S.