South Dakota Governor Signs First Anti-LGBT Law of 2017

by Chris Johnson, Washington Blade

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has signed into law a measure allowing taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to deny services and child placement to LGBT families out of religious objections, making him the first governor in 2017 to sign an anti-LGBT law.

Daaugard signed the measure, Senate Bill 149, with little fanfare Friday after the Republican-controlled legislature approved it by significant margins. The new law prohibits the state from taking adverse action against child placement agencies that discriminate against LGBT families, including the elimination of tax-exemptions, the imposition of fines, the cancelation of contracts or discrimination against the agency in a state benefit program.

Laura Durso, vice president of the LGBT research and communications at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement Daugaard signed legislation "shamefully targeting LGBT parents and vulnerable kids."

"SB 149 allows religiously-affiliated foster care and adoption agencies to turn away qualified LGBT parents and single moms who simply want to start families and give young people a safe, loving home," Durso said. "Same-sex couples are six times as likely to foster than different-sex couples are, and this bill proves once again that opponents of equality are happy to put children at risk and deny them permanent homes to further their anti-LGBT agenda."

Many child placement agencies are faith-based organizations, such as Catholic adoption agencies, but the new law makes no distinction between agencies that are religious or otherwise affiliated.

According to the Associated Press, Daugaard said before signing the bill he was concerned private child-placement agencies could be subject to a lawsuit if they denied placement to people in a "protected class," such as members of the LGBT community. He said he hopes the new law would forestall that.

Adoption agencies in Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Washington D.C. ended adoption services after in those states after they enacted marriage equality, saying they couldn't place children into LGBT families. Although the organizations said they were forced to close because of same-sex marriage, they ended services on their own volition.

Last year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law similar legislation allow agencies to deny child placement in LGBT families for religious reasons. Other states that have similar laws, according to the AP, are North Dakota and Virginia.

Libby Skarin, policy director of the ACLU of South Dakota, said in a statement she's "deeply disappointed" Daugaard signed the measure into despite pleas from these organizations to veto the measure.

"This discriminatory legislation takes South Dakota in the wrong direction, and sends the message that our leaders are more concerned with the desires of religious agencies than the rights of individuals and children in our state," Skarin said.

Daugaard's decision to sign the anti-LGBT measure into law contrasts with his veto last year of legislation that would have allowed South Dakota schools to deny transgender kids access to the public restroom consistent with their gender identity.

Local and national child welfare experts sent letters opposing SB 149, such as The Adoption Exchange, Child Welfare League of America, National Association of Social Workers and Voice for Adoption. Others who opposed the measure were family law experts and South Dakota pediatricians.

James Esseks, director of the ACLU's LGBT Project, said in a statement Daugaard's decision to sign the bill is "deeply troubling" because it's "only one of many bills moving through state legislatures across the country that authorizes taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT Americans."

"These laws run contrary to one of our core American values: The rule of law, which means we are all held to and protected by the same laws," Esseks added. "These religious exemptions laws run contrary to this belief by encouraging people to pick and choose which laws they are going to follow based on their religious beliefs."

Other states that are considering anti-LGBT bills that would allow discrimination in the name of "religious freedom" are Texas, which is considering Senate Bill 892 and House Bill 1805; Oklahoma, which is considering House Bill 1507; and Alabama, which is considering Senate Bill 145.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the office of Daugaard seeking comment on his decision to sign the legislation.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association.This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Media Association.
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