Tennessee Governor Signs Discriminatory Adoption Law


January 24, 2020

Adam Polaski | 610.306.7956 | adam@southernequality.org

Tennessee Governor Signs Discriminatory Adoption Law, in Sharp Contrast to Momentum for LGBTQ Equality in Southern States

Discriminatory law in Tennessee is at odds with growing momentum for LGBTQ equality across Southern states, from West Virginia to Kentucky to Virginia

NASHVILLE – Today Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed SB 1304, which will allow taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to cite their religious beliefs as a reason for refusing to work with families. The law stands to impact LGBTQ families, same-sex couples, and families of different faith backgrounds. Gov. Lee’s signature makes SB 1304 the first anti-LGBTQ legislation to pass in 2020.

Today Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, assessed the early 2020 landscape of Southern legislatures. She said:

“We strongly oppose Gov. Lee’s decision and urge him to deeply and prayerfully consider the damage and harm of this bill, which could do a colossal disservice to the many children in Tennessee waiting to be adopted by safe and loving families. It opens the door to taxpayer-funded adoption agencies turning away potential parents just because of who they are. It’s bad for kids, bad for LGBTQ people, and bad for the state overall. We’re grateful to the Tennessee Equality Project and other advocates for fighting against it and pushing forward on LGBTQ equality in the state. 

This bill, however, is a stark outlier in the broader story of LGBTQ life in the South right now. For years we’ve been seeing public support for LGBTQ equality grow across the South. Now, this year we’re seeing support for LGTBQ dignity and equality show up as a political force across the South: Legislation protecting minors from ‘conversion therapy’ is advancing in Kentucky and Virginia, Republican leaders in West Virginia and Georgia have publicly opposed anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and Virginia could become the first in the South to pass statewide LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. 

LGBTQ Southerners have been working hard to create change and share their stories for years – and now, in 2020, lawmakers are beginning to listen with renewed engagement. The steps forward we’ve seen are ultimately more powerful than any single discriminatory law because they signal a rising tide toward justice for LGBTQ Southerners. We must do everything we can to sustain the conversation about LGBTQ equality across the South and achieve our vision of a South where everyone can thrive.”

Tennessee is home to an estimated 130,000 LGBTQ adults, with 20% of same-sex couples in the state raising children, according to The Williams Institute. The state is also home to an estimated 8,000 children in foster care and many same-sex couples who are ready and want to become foster and adoptive parents. 

The passage of SB 1304 into law stands in sharp contrast to what’s happening with LGBTQ-related bills in other Southern states, where leaders across the political spectrum are opposing anti-LGBTQ legislation and pushing forward on positive, LGBTQ-inclusive legislation. For example:

  • In Virginia, the General Assembly is considering legislation to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, which cleared a subcomittee this week. Also this week, legislation prohibiting the dangerous practice of “conversion therapy” for minors was passed by the state Senate. 
  • In Kentucky, a bill to protect minors from “conversion therapy” was introduced with both Democratic and Republican cosponsors.
  • In Georgia, House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican, said he opposes an anti-LGBTQ adoption bill and would block its movement. 

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Based in Asheville, NC, the Campaign for Southern Equality works for full LGBTQ equality across the South. Our work is rooted in commitments to equity in race, gender and class. http://www.southernequality.org