Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law on May 11 a “religious freedom” bill enabling taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to deny placement into LGBT homes, marking the first time in 2018 a state anti-LGBT bill became law.
In a statement on May 11, Fallin announced she signed Senate Bill 1140 into law “after many hours of consideration and investigation of Oklahoma’s current practice” amid a groundswell of opposition from LGBT rights supporters and child care agencies.
“SB 1140 allows faith-based agencies that contract with Oklahoma to continue to operate in accordance with their beliefs,” Fallin said. “In a day and time when diversity is becoming a core value to society because it will lead to more options, we should recognize its value for serving Oklahoma also because it leads to more options for loving homes to serve Oklahoma children.”
LGBT rights supporters had criticized SB 1140 and urged Fallin to veto the measure because it would enable religious-based adoption agencies in the state, which receive taxpayer funds, to deny placement into homes with LGBT placement over “religious objections.” Conceivably, the bill could also permit these agencies to subject LGBT children in foster care to widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy.
A massive outcry from LGBT rights supporters emerged as SB 1140 moved through the state legislature and to Fallin’s desk. Joining LGBT groups in opposition to the bills are child welfare organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Child Welfare League of America and the North American Council on Adoptable Children.
Others who spoke out against the bill were Oklahoma native and “Will & Grace” star Megan Mullally, singer Kristin Chenoweth and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. According to Freedom for All Americans, more than 15,000 Oklahomans sent letters to their lawmakers urging them to reject the bill.
Supporters of the bill are organizations supporting Catholic adoption agencies — such as Catholic Charities and the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma — who say these agencies will have to shut their doors if forced to place children into LGBT homes.
In her statement, Fallin denied signing SB 1140 into law mean Oklahoma would be “in any way restricting current practice allowing LGBTQ individuals and couples fostering or adopting.”
“It does not ban same-sex adoption or foster care in Oklahoma,” Fallin said. “Instead, the bill will help continue Oklahoma’s successful placement of children with a broad array of loving families and basically maintain the status quo by setting forth in statute practices which have successfully worked for the best interest of Oklahoma children.”
As Fallin noted, other states — Mississippi, Michigan, Virginia, Texas, Alabama, South Dakota and North Dakota — have similar laws on the books. A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Michigan law is pending in the federal courts.
Insisting she’s “committed to preserving the rights of all Oklahomans who are eligible and want to be considered for parenting,” Fallin added she’ll sign an executive order to order the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to publish a list immediately of Oklahoma adoption and foster agencies on its website “who are willing to serve everyone who meets the Department of Human Services criteria for being a foster or adoptive parent.”
But Fallin’s assurance the law isn’t discriminatory and she’ll take additional action for potential LGBT parents wasn’t enough for LGBT rights, who condemned her for signing the measure.
JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement it is “shameful” Fallin would sign SB 1140.
“Gov. Fallin has cemented her legacy, siding with discrimination and the legislature in throwing kids under the bus to create a ‘license to discriminate’ against LGBTQ Oklahomans,” Winterhof said. “With this action, Oklahoma has the negative distinction of being the only state to sign an anti-LGBTQ bill into law this year. Oklahoma’s leaders must live with that, and live with the reputational fallout that it may bring. This is wrong.”
Prior to Fallin signing the bill into law, LGBT rights supporters had hoped none of the 120 anti-LGBT bills pending before state legislatures this year would make it into law. Now that Fallin has signed the anti-LGBT adoption bill, those hopes are dashed.
Troy Stevenson, Executive Director of Freedom Oklahoma, said he’s “deeply disappointed” Fallin signed the measure, but is “more concerned about the children – desperately looking for homes – that will be harmed by this disgraceful legislation.”
“And the countless young people who will be stigmatized by state sanctioned hate,” Stevenson added. “Make no mistake, we will fight for the most vulnerable Oklahomans targeted by this law.”
Stevenson also told the Blade LGBT rights supporters plan to file a federal lawsuit challenging the new Oklahoma anti-LGBT law.
“We are going to litigate,” Stevenson said. “I met with our attorneys [Friday] night, and will meet with our national coalition and the broader legal team on Monday. We will be announcing something early next week.”
An opponent of same-sex marriage, Fallin has an anti-LGBT history as governor of Oklahoma. When the Obama administration ordered the U.S. military to provide spousal benefits to service members in same-sex marriages, Fallin said the Oklahoma National Guard would stop processing benefits for couples — gay and straight. Only after the Obama administration threatened a loss of federal funds to state withholding those benefits did Fallin agree to a a deal enabling same-sex couples to obtain them.
Lucas Acosta, LGBT media director for the Democratic National Committee, predicted Oklahoma residents would hold Republicans and Fallin accountable at the polls for enacting SB 1140 — pointing to recent unexpected victories for Democrats in Oklahoma during special elections.
“With over 400,000 children in foster care nationwide, including more than 16,000 in Oklahoma alone, the Oklahoma legislature should be focusing on how it can attract more qualified and loving parents to the system – not rejecting potential homes based on the gender identity or sexual orientation of the parents,” Acosta said.
Before Fallin signed SB 1140, the legislation wasn’t the only state anti-LGBT adoption bill headed toward becoming law. In Kansas, the state legislature has sent Senate Bill 284 to the desk of Gov. Jeff Coyler, who’s also expected to sign the measure despite opposition from LGBT groups.
Currey Cook, counsel and director for the Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project at Lambda Legal, urged Coyler not to follow Fallin’s lead and veto the anti-LGBT adoption bill pending before him.
“We hope that other governors, most immediately Kansas Gov. Colyer, will not follow Oklahoma’s example and will put the needs of the child first,” Coyler said. “To deny qualified parents eager to foster or adopt children in need of loving homes because of their sexual orientation or gender-identity or particular religious belief is not only wrong, but impacts the most vulnerable the most.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.