Georgia governor opposes changes to adoption bill critics see as discriminatory

Gov. Nathan Deal. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Gov. Nathan Deal said Monday he opposed late changes to a measure that could allow private adoption agencies that receive state funding to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

The governor said the provision, adopted last week in a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, could scuttle an otherwise “good bill” that aimed to update the state’s adoption rules.

Deal noted the concerns of Bobby Cagle, director of the state Division of Family and Children Services, who said they could likely endanger “hundreds of millions of dollars” the agency received from the federal government because they could violate federal anti-discrimination laws.

“I certainly don’t want that to happen, and I would hope they would reconsider the addition to this language that could put the whole bill in jeopardy,” Deal said in an interview.

Cagle’s office said he was referring to the department’s requirement to comply with the Civil Rights Act to receive federal funds.

The DFCS director handed out a Justice Department memo to Senate Judiciary Committee members before the vote that said the law’s Title VI provision is an “overarching anti-discrimination statute that applies to the programs and activities of all entities receiving federal financial assistance.”

The changes to House Bill 159 were done over the objections of its sponsor, state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta. The addition to the measure has ignited a new debate over legislation pushed by some religious conservatives after lawmakers sidelined a broader “religious liberty” proposal.

Supporters say the changes could boost the number of adoption agencies that will work with the state while allowing private adoption agencies more leeway to pursue their faith-based missions. Critics cast it as legalized discrimination and promised a bitter fight to oppose the measure.

Deal, who vetoed last year’s “religious liberty” measure, was asked Monday if the new adoption provision could be a poison pill that scuttled the entire proposal.

“Obviously, you have to be concerned because that is a major program that is administered by DFCS,” he said.


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