Surrounded by legislators, faith leaders and foster care workers, Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer signed into law a bill that drew fierce debate over whether it protects faith-based agencies or legalizes discrimination against LGBT people.
The bill, approved by the Legislature in early May, allows agencies to refuse placement of children “for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement of such child would violate such agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Colyer signed the bill Friday at Youth Horizons Kinloch Price Boys Ranch, a Christian nonprofit that offers residential care for boys with severe individual and family challenges.
“What I want Kansans to know is this is about fairness and that we are protecting everyone,” Colyer said. “It’s not about discrimination, it’s about fairness. We’re looking after those kids that need a forever home.”
The signing resulted in both praise and condemnation. Kansas Democrats referred to it as “abhorrent” in a statement, saying the state will likely suffer financial loss because of it.
Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and candidate for governor, lauded the bill.
"Faith-based adoption agencies can continue the great work they do knowing they will always be able to operate in accordance with their faith in Kansas,” he said in a statement.
Jim Barnett, former state senator and another Republican candidate for governor, said the law will likely result in lawsuits and deter young people and businesses from moving to the state.
“This is a moment of truth for Jeff Colyer today,” Barnett said. “He signed discrimination into Kansas law and showed Kansans that the people that controlled (former Gov. Sam) Brownback control him.”
Speakers at the bill signing included several legislators, foster care workers and Bishop Carl Kemme of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita. The bill was backed by the Catholic Church, which has supported similar legislation in other states.
Kemme said that the Catholic Church has been offering adoption and foster care services for hundreds of years.
“And we’ve been able to do that while exercising our religious beliefs,” he said. “We don’t ever want to stop that, which we might’ve had to had this bill not been passed.”
Lori Ross, founder and CEO of FosterAdopt Connect, called Friday “a sad day for the kids in Kansas.”
The law will discourage LGBT parents from fostering or adopting, she said, and could also lead to LGBT children being placed in homes that aren’t welcoming or affirming.
Increasing the number of agencies providing foster and adoption services is not the same as increasing the number of foster homes, Ross said.
“It is completely unfair that those same people who are going to be discouraged from fostering and adopting are going to be paying taxes into the state that are going to be used to pay agencies to do work that would discriminate against them,” Ross said. “There’s nobody, myself included, that says a religious-based organization doesn’t have a right to practice whatever their deeply held religious beliefs are. When it becomes a problem is when public dollars are being used to fund a service.”
Tom Witt, director of Equality Kansas, said the intent of the legislation is to allow taxpayer-funded discrimination.
“Governor Colyer promised Kansas he was not going to tolerate discrimination of any kind,” Witt said. “He had an opportunity to back that up by vetoing this bill, but instead he has proven his words are meaningless.”
Julian Thomas, founder of St. Nick Adoptions, said the bill isn’t about discrimination, but rather that it’s about taking away the risk of litigation and allowing all groups to operate based on their beliefs, regardless of their religion.
“Christian agencies should be able to exercise their Christian beliefs in doing something that is as personal and spiritual as building a family,” she said.