Lambda Legal Condemns Discriminatory “Conscience Clause” Foster Care Bills; Urges Senate to Continue Push to Protect Runaway and Homeless Youth

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April 23, 2015
Currey Cook

In a 56-43 vote yesterday, the U.S. Senate narrowly failed to pass the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, which would have markedly increased protections for the nation’s most vulnerable youth. Though the majority of the Senate voted in favor of the act, it missed the necessary 60 vote requirement.

While we applaud the majority of senators, led by Senator Collins (R-ME), Senator Leahy (D-VT), Senator Ayotte (R-NH), Senator Heitkamp (D-ND) and Senator Durbin (D-IL), who voted in favor of increased support and nondiscriminatory services for all youth, we challenge the rest to do the right thing for the most vulnerable youth in our communities.

Learn more about Lambda Legal's Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project

Forty percent of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ. The majority of these youth have been pushed out or kicked out of their homes because of who they are. Once homeless, they are at markedly increased risk of commercial sexual exploitation and entry into the criminal justice system. 

All members of Congress need to stand with their peers in support of the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act,  to ensure that federally-funded programs that serve at-risk runaway and homeless youth support and affirm them rather than allow providers to subject these vulnerable youth to very same rejection they experienced at home. Nondiscriminatory services not only improve public health outcomes for youth, but help LGBTQ youth become stable, productive members of our society. (Read the press release.)

Are you young and LGBTQ? Know your rights and make sure they're respected.

Additionally, legislators in Texas, Alabama and Michigan are considering a series of so-called “conscience clause” bills, which would allow state-funded child placing agencies to refuse to place a child with potential foster or adoptive parents if the placement conflicts with the agency’s “religious or moral” convictions, including restricting potential LGBT foster and adoptive parents. Lambda Legal Senior Attorney and Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project National Director M. Currey Cook issued the following statement:

There are so many children in foster care in these states who lack a stable, loving family to care for them and potentially provide a permanent adoptive home. These bills are thinly-veiled attempts to single out LGBT foster and adoptive parents. Finding a suitable foster or adoptive home can be a challenge, particularly for older children and those with special needs. The passage of these discriminatory bills would have dangerous, devastating effects for children in the Michigan, Texas and Alabama foster care systems by allowing state-funded agencies to turn away loving individuals and families.

The state-funded, faith-based agencies pushing these bills also serve LGBTQ youth. This type of legislation sends a damaging message to these youth that they are ‘different’ and unsuitable to be parents themselves. Though the proposed bills do not specifically name LGBT individuals or same-sex couples, the intent of the language is clear, as is the message they convey.

Foster care and adoption agencies should only be guided by the best interest of the child, and they should be held to the non-discrimination standards recommended by the Child Welfare League of America and other child welfare experts. We urge Texas, Alabama and Michigan to put a final stop to these profoundly misguided bills before they go any further. (Read the press release.)