WASHINGTON - Today, the Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) joined the ACLU of South Dakota in calling out South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard for signing into law Senate Bill ( SB ) 149 — discriminatory legislation targeting LGBTQ people and other minorities. SB 149 enshrines taxpayer-funded discrimination into state law by allowing state-funded adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ youth in their care and to reject qualified prospective LGBTQ adoptive or foster parents based on the agency's purported religious beliefs.
"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."
"Governor Daugaard's decision to sign this discriminatory legislation into law is deeply disappointing," said ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director Elizabeth A. Skarin. "Loving, qualified families should not be turned away from adopting a needy child simply because they are LGBT, of a different faith than the agency, or divorced. Even worse, this law directly affects the hundreds of children in South Dakota awaiting their forever families — and those children deserve better from our state leaders."
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. For more information, visit http://hrc.im/2017legislature.
The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.