The Trump administration is proposing a rule that would allow faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to continue getting taxpayer funding even if they exclude LGBTQ families and others from their services based on religious beliefs.
The announcement generated a sharp backlash from some Democratic lawmakers and LGBT advocacy groups. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the Trump administration was working overtime to "implement cruel and discriminatory policies, and wasting taxpayer dollars in its obsessive pursuit."
President Donald Trump has made addressing the concerns of evangelical voters a priority of his presidency.
The White House says the rule from the Department of Health and Human Services is needed to remove barriers that prevent some nonprofits from helping vulnerable people in their communities. It would apply to a broad range of organizations that receive federal support, such as those that get federal funding to help the homeless or prevent HIV. But the focus from supporters and detractors Friday was on foster care and adoption services.
Under the proposed rule, HHS would redo an Obama-era rule that included sexual orientation as a protected trait under anti-discrimination protections.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said that restricting the work of faith-based organizations, as the Obama rule threatened to do, was unfair and serves no one, "especially the children in need of those services."
The Family Research Council, a conservative group with a long history of anti-gay advocacy that believes homosexuality is “harmful” to “society at large,” applauded the move and commended President Donald Trump for “his courage.”
“Thanks to President Trump, charities will be free to care for needy children and operate according to their religious beliefs and the reality that children do best in a home with a married mom and dad,” the organization’s president, Tony Perkins, stated. “Under the proposed HHS rule, faith-based adoption providers will no longer have to choose between abandoning their faith or abandoning homeless children because the government disapproves of their views on marriage.”
But LGBTQ groups say the administration's plan would reduce the pool of qualified parents wanting to adopt or foster a child. They say that almost 123,000 foster children are awaiting adoption, but the rule would make even fewer families available to them.
“Children should never be denied the opportunity to join a stable, loving family — even if that means the family is LGBTQ,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement shared with NBC News. “Research has shown LGBTQ families provide the same kind of love, protection, and support as other families, and no child should be denied that kind of environment. The Trump Administration has once again demonstrated how they prefer to prioritize the gross work of anti-LGBTQ activists over the safety and well-being of our children.”
In a call with reporters Friday, representatives from Children’s Rights and the Voice for Adoption, two organizations that advocate on behalf of children in foster care, condemned the proposal.
“This rule is a full force attack by the United States federal government enshrining discrimination into law,” Christina Wilson Remlin, an attorney with Children’s Rights, said. The rule, she added, would be "at the expense” of children in foster care.
Remlin noted that there is a shortage of foster homes across the country and referenced a 2018 report from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law that found same-sex couples are significantly more likely than different-sex couples to be raising adopted or foster children — 21 percent compared to 3 percent, respectively.
Rabbi Jason Kimmel-Block, the director of progressive Jewish social justice group Bend the Arc, also spoke out against the proposal, which he called “jaw-dropping.”
“Religion is being used as a sword to harm people rather than a shield to protect people,” Kimmel-Block said of the plan during a call with reporters. He then accused the Trump administration of prioritizing the religious views of some people over the views and rights of others.
Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, which can happen as soon as early next week, there will be a 30-day public comment period. After that period, the administration will review those comments before issuing a final rule.
In the interim, the administration announced that it would not enforce existing nondiscrimination protections that it seeks to roll back in its proposal.
“HHS’ announcement that it will immediately cease enforcement of existing nondiscrimination protections, rather than adhering to the established procedures for changing regulations such as these, once again demonstrates the Trump administration’s utter disregard for the rule of law,” Sharon McGowan, the legal director of the LGBTQ civil rights group Lambda Legal, said in a statement shared with NBC News.