On Feb. 23, the Georgia State Senate passed bill SB-375, which allows child welfare agencies — including adoption and foster care agencies — to invoke religious freedom as a reason to avoid placing children with same-sex couples. Although religious freedom is a pillar of the United States, equality is its foundation. Allowing religion to be used as an excuse to discriminate sets a dangerous precedent that further reduces same-sex couples to second-class citizens.
Unfortunately, Georgia would not be the first to pass such a law. In fact, it would be the eighth state to allow child welfare agencies to deny service to same-sex couples if it feels as though its religious beliefs are being violated. However, Georgia specifically has a large number of potentially affected couples and children.
For starters, there are almost 14,000 children in foster care in Georgia. Of the 49 foster care and adoption agencies in Georgia that may aid these children, 14 are religiously affiliated. Georgia is home to a large LGBT population, with about 300,000 LGBT citizens and over 21,000 same-sex couples. Furthermore, about 29 percent of the LGBT population are raising children.
Such an impactful bill should have a clearly defined, persuasive purpose. The law cites an agency’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” as just reason for deferral of service. However, even among Christians, what the Bible says about homosexuality is under dispute.
Some say the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality, with Focus on the Family stating “there is simply no scriptural support for endorsing sexual immorality (i.e., sexual activity outside the bond of heterosexual marriage).” Yet others, such as the Human Rights Compaign, argue that there is nothing in the Bible that prohibits homosexuality. The few times the Bible does reference homosexuals, it condemns them not because of their sexuality but for things like worshipping “false gods.” People argue that the concept of homosexuality was foreign to many during Biblical times and that to read the Bible as homophobic is to allow cultural biases to corrupt one’s religious beliefs.
Regardless of what the Bible says, religion as a whole does not provide people with a free pass to discriminate. As important as it is to allow for religious freedom, equality is more important. If religious values were allowed to justify discrimination, a dangerous precedent would be set.
This would not be the first time religion was used to discriminate. Whether citing the Bible passage about Adam’s rib to support sexism, or passages sanctifying enslavement to advocate for slavery, religion has provided those who wish to treat others as lesser with a spiritual shield.
We as a society must decide what values we want to encourage. Although religious freedom is a cornerstone of the U.S., religious beliefs should not be allowed to justify violating another’s rights. Especially since such justification would not hold if used to discriminate based on race or gender, it is unfair to say that same-sex citizens are less important. Doing so would only make it more clear that our culture has not progressed enough to allow true equality, as another minority group is in the ring, fighting for its rights.
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A version of this appeared in the Monday, March 5 print edition. Email Victor Porcelli at [email protected].