Florida House passes adoption discrimination bill, cooler heads prevail in Senate **UPDATED**

Florida State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville
Florida State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville

UPDATE: Senate Rules Committee now plans to give HB 7111 a hearing on Monday, April 20.

Last week in this column, Billy Manes wrote about how, while everyone's been busy scoffing at Indiana's backward politicians for passing a law that made it legal to discriminate against LGBT people in the name of religious freedom, the Florida House has been hard at work in Tallahassee conjuring a discriminatory religious bill we can call our very own.

75: Number of members of the Florida House who voted in favor of a bill that would permit private adoption agencies to discriminate against families based on "moral or religious convictions"

Last week, the House passed HB 7111, aka the "Conscience Protection for Actions of Private Child-Placing Agencies Act," which would make it legal for private adoption agencies to refuse to adopt to families based on "religious or moral convictions or policies." The bill is unambiguously aimed at LGBT families, as it was introduced on the heels of a larger adoption bill designed to get more kids in the system into foster care and adoptive homes. One part of that larger bill includes a provision that removes the state's gay adoption ban from the law books – in 2010, Florida's ban on gay adoption was declared unconstitutional, so the law is unenforceable anyway. It's moot. Why not remove it?

Oh, that's right – some kind of religious revenge thing. Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, sprang into action with HB 7111 and revealed to the world that most of the Florida House is not only cool with discriminating against gays, it's also OK with discrimination based on race, class, sex, nationality, you name it – as long as it's rooted in religious doctrine. See, HB 7111 doesn't just apply to LGBT families. It can be used to excuse pretty much any kind of so-called "moral objection" an adoption agency run by bigots, lunatics or cult members could dream up. Religious objections? Certainly. Objections to allowing unmarried couples to adopt? Yes. Racial discrimination? Yep, as long as there's a "moral" reason for it.

38: Number of members of the Florida House who opposed the bill

One after the other, members of the House who saw the proposed bill for what it is attempted to file amendments that would remove its teeth – Rep. Victor Torres Jr., D-Orlando, filed an amendment that stated that the law couldn't be used to discriminate based on nationality; Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, filed one that would have made it illegal to discriminate based on race; Rep. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, filed an amendment to protect against discrimination based on gender identity; Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston, filed one to protect against religious discrimination – but each and every amendment was "superseded by" a substitute amendment filed by Brodeur, that stated unequivocally that "an act by a private child-placing agency under this subsection does not constitute discrimination."

The House even killed an amendment that would have kept these private child-placing agencies from being allowed to obtain government grants or contracts if they chose to discriminate – so not only is the House OK with discrimination based on religious morals, it's totally cool with funding it, too. That's your Legislature at work.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed in the Senate. HB 7111 does not currently have a companion bill in the Senate, but some were concerned that it could be tacked onto the Senate's version of an adoption-reform bill sponsored by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. Despite protests from some of his colleagues (we're looking at you, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland), Gaetz went to bat for striking discriminatory language from the books and moving forward with the omnibus adoption bill without any religious-freedom exemptions. "We don't need to turn the social clock in this state back to 1977," he told the Senate.

We agree. Now, if only he could tell that to his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, who was one of the 75 votes in favor of HB 7111 in the House.

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