Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP (Getty Images)

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on any given day, over 437,000 children are living in the U.S. foster care system and the number has been rising. In 2019 only around 61,000 children were adopted and 26 percent of that number weren’t adopted until they were at 9-years or older. 17,844 (7 percent) aged out of the U.S. foster care system, and a majority left without the emotional and financial support necessary to live comfortably on their own that other children can receive within a family.

Given these statistics, it is absolutely confounding to me that anyone would ever seek to make entire demographics of willing and able adults ineligible to adopt ... and yet, here we are.

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USA Today reported that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a measure Friday that would allow religious adoption agencies to deny service to same-sex couples. The state Senate approved the measure with a 20-6 vote.

Under this law, which takes effect immediately, adoption agencies can refuse to place children with would-be parents if doing so would “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” Additionally, the state would be barred from denying an agency’s license or grant application for public funds over declining to place a child with a family based on religious objections.

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“The governor believes that protection of rights is important, especially religious liberty,” Lee spokesman Gillum Ferguson said. “This bill is centered around protecting the religious liberty of Tennesseans and that’s why he signed it.”

To be perfectly clear, what this law does is prioritize the protection of religious bigotry over the well being of children who would be far better off in the arms of loving families than lost in an overburdened foster care system. Advocates for laws like these can try to spin it any way they please, but prejudice and irrational fear and hatred are still what it all boils down to.

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Several groups, including the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, urged Lee not to sign the legislation, according to USA Today, and advocacy groups, like the Campaign for Southern Equality and the Human Rights Campaign, say that legislation like this targets members of the LGBTQ community. (Because, obviously.)

But obtuse is as obtuse does, so supporters of the law like Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, get to make dubious claims that these laws were actually meant to serve the interests of children and doesn’t promote discrimination, which he did in a recent article published in the Tennesseean.

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“This law prevents the state from discriminating against faith-based organizations as they serve and meet the needs of children. It does not restrict others at all,” said Moore.

It does though. It restricts potential foster parents from being able to adopt and it does so on the assumption that same-sex couples or otherwise queer parents can’t care for children the way a mother and father unit can. It’s bullshit.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

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