South Dakota Becomes First State In 2017 To Pass Law Legalizing Discrimination Against LGBT People

After months of hard work, South Dakota lawmakers handed Governor Dennis Daugaard Senate Bill 149, a bill that allows taxpayer-funded agencies to refuse to provide any service, including adoption or foster care services, on the basis of the agency’s religious or moral convictions, according to the ACLU.

Gov. Daugaard quickly signed the bill into law, making South Dakota the first state in 2017 to pass anti-LGBT legislation.

The ACLU derided the new anti-LGBT bill in a press release:

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota has led the opposition to SB 149 through both lobbying efforts and by organizing affected communities. In a state facing a labor and talent shortage, this bill has sparked national interest and local questions as to whether South Dakota welcomes diversity and values the rights of individual citizens.

This bill was opposed by local and national child welfare experts that sent letters in opposition including The Adoption Exchange, Child Welfare League of America, National Association of Social Workers, and Voice for Adoption, as well as family law experts, South Dakota pediatricians, and local and national LGBT rights organizations including the Movement Advancement Project, the Human Rights Campaign, and more.

“We’re deeply disappointed by Governor Daugaard’s decision to green light Senate Bill 149,” Said Libby Skarin, Policy Director of the ACLU of South Dakota. “This discriminatory legislation takes South Dakota in the wrong direction, and sends the message that our leaders are more concerned with the desires of religious agencies than the rights of individuals and children in our state…In the end, this bill was never about religious freedom. It has always been about allowing private organizations that discriminate to receive state contracts and taxpayer dollars to carry out their religion’s missions. We’re particularly concerned about how this bill could impact vulnerable kids in our foster care system that deserve to have their best interests considered above the desires of private agencies.”

The Human Rights Campaign joined the ACLU in denouncing the new law:

This is the first anti-LGBTQ bill that any state has signed into law this session. Governor Daugaard’s action not only puts the best interests of the more than a thousand vulnerable children served by South Dakota’s foster care system at risk, it signals the potential of a dark new reality for the fight for LGBTQ rights,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “These children could now wait longer to be placed in a safe, loving home at the whim of a state-funded adoption or foster care agency with a vendetta against LGBTQ couples, mixed-faith couples or interracial couples — all while being taxpayer-funded. LGBTQ children in South Dakota’s foster care system face the risk of staying in a facility that does not affirm their identity and actively works against the child’s well being by refusing to give them appropriate medical and mental health care.

SB 149 would allow state-licensed and taxpayer-funded child-placement agencies to disregard the best interest of children, and turn away qualified South Dakotans seeking to care for a child in need — including LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a purported religious objection. There are an estimated 1,174 children in South Dakota’s foster care system. The measure would even allow agencies to refuse to place foster children with members of their own extended families — a practice often considered to be in the best interest of the child. A qualified, loving LGBTQ grandparent, for example, could be deemed unsuitable under the proposed law. It would also allow agencies to refuse to provide appropriate medical and mental health care to LGBTQ children if the agency has a purported moral or religious objection to providing those services. Shockingly, under SB 149, an agency couldn’t lose its license or contract as a result of subjecting a child to abusive practices like so-called conversion therapy if it claimed such “therapy” is compelled by religious belief.

Leading local pediatricians and legal experts, as well as the Adoption Exchange, the Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of Social Workers and Voices for Adoption sent letters to South Dakota legislators expressing their concern about SB 149.

Research consistently shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, as many have been rejected by their families of origin because they are LGBTQ. These young people are already vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment while in foster care, and SB 149 would only exacerbate the challenges they face.

The attack on fairness and equality in South Dakota is part of an onslaught of bills being pushed in 2017 by anti-equality activists around the country. HRC is currently tracking more than 70 anti-LGBTQ legislative proposals in 24 states.

h/t: towleroad