Ignore the frenzied “Texas Could Ban Gay, Jewish Parents” headlines sounding an alarm on the adoption bill currently in front of the Texas legislature. If passed, the law would forbid the Lone Star State from obstructing state-funded or private adoption agencies that consider religious beliefs in choosing homes for parentless kids. In other words, Texas could never force an agency to be religion-blind in creating new families.
The LGBT community, which has gone into crisis mode, needs to understand that not everything is about them. This broad bill contains no language referring to sexuality, although certainly some faith-based adoption agencies will prefer mother-father families or even refuse to consider any other kind. But the bill is about religion, not sexuality.
And if every child is going to flourish, agencies must be allowed to consider religion in placement. Here’s a vivid example: without the protections of this law the state would be impotent to keep sick children from being placed in Christian Science homes. That could be considered “illegal discrimination” and agencies would be forced to treat such families equally, even those who would “heal” the child through prayer rather than conventional medicine.
Allowing non-Jews to raise a child with a Jewish mother is considered a catastrophe in traditional Judaism. After the Holocaust, Jewish organizations expended tremendous resources to find children raised by Christian families since infancy – so they could be reunited with the Jewish people. Should that be against public policy? Without laws like the one in Texas, the government could shut down agencies like the Jewish Children’s Adoption Network.
And on a practical level, if adoption agencies must be religion-blind, children can be barred from exercising their faiths – such as the Jewish teenager whose foster family denied her request for kosher food. And Jewish babies may never be circumcised, all because of some theoretical idea that discrimination is always bad. Sometimes, religion does matter in making families.
Many opponents of this bill have emphasized that it could allow parents to refuse birth control and abortion to their adoptive children, or even force them into the disreputable and debunked “conversion” therapy if they’re gay. But traditionalist American parents can already do all of that – just as liberal parents can use parenting strategies that conservatives view with horror. Adoptive parents don’t differentiate between what my friend Rabbi Susan Silverman calls the ones they “produce” and the ones they “import.” Texas shouldn’t either.
The gay community seems to be reading from an old script, which was effective fighting mean-spirited laws like Florida’s that until 2010 barred same-sex couples from adopting kids. Today’s situation is much different. There are plenty of children needing parents and plenty of agencies happy to facilitate same-sex adoptions (a practice I enthusiastically support). Here, as with bakers and florists who refuse to provide services for gay weddings, the LGBT community seems to want to regulate even what people think about homosexuality – and punish those whose religions aren’t aboard the equality train.
While the effect of the bill’s defeat on LGBT people would be limited, its effect on adoptions could be severe. Some agencies – such as those serving the Jewish community and those like it – will shut down rather than treat people of all faiths equally. Government policies are simply not going to change people’s deeply held religious beliefs. Further, parents incapable of providing for their children may very well refuse to consider adoptions that might facilitate a household headed by parents of a different religion – or, yes, those of the same sex. Don’t punish their kids for that by leaving them in an unsafe environment.
The panic over the Texas bill is a manifestation of what I call Phantom Selma Syndrome, the regret at not having marched with Martin Luther King and the consequent urge to identify some discrimination to overcome. But forming a family is not like finding a job or renting an apartment. It is one of the most intimate acts we do, and beliefs (or lack thereof) play a role no matter what the government says. Let’s not kick faith-based agencies to the curb for being, well, faith-based, as they do the heroic work of matching kids to Moms and Dads.