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Tennessee Passes Controversial Adoption Bill Despite Backlash Concerns

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

The Tennessee Senate reconvened Tuesday and jumped into one of the most controversial issues left over from last year. 

Lawmakers approved a measure that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to refuse child placements based on moral beliefs.  

Some lawmakers worry about the economic implications. Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, says he fears Tennessee will experience a corporate backlash over the adoption legislation, which he says discriminates against LGBT couples.



“In the last 6 months, a number of conventions have inquired about this bill and about similar bills,” he said during the debate in Senate chambers. “And they have articulated that they will not book future conventions in our state.”

Other GOP senators expressed concerns and chose not to vote yes or no. Still it passed easily.  

The measure has sparked pushback from companies since last year, including AllianceBernstein. The newly relocated global money management firm announced just this week an expansion of its Nashville headquarters.   

But Sen. Paul Rose, R-Covington, says that backlash probably won’t reach West Tennessee, where he’s from.  

“They don’t live in my district,” he told fellow Republican senators before the vote. “And, quite frankly, they are probably moved in and bringing their babies.”

Rose says the adoption rules are meant to protect religious freedom. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Lee for his signature.  

Why Tennessee Joined Other States

Asked if the measure is necessary, Rose would say not right now but that he is concerned about the future.  

Families already get turned down because of who they are. Such is the case of Becci and Paige Cantrell of Hendersonville, who had trouble adopting in Tennessee. 

“Here, we were turned down by multiple agencies because we were a same-sex couple,” she says.

Becci Cantrell says she and her wife of 20 years had to make their second adoption through an agency in Alabama who was willing to work with a lesbian couple. She calls the experience “disheartening.”

“It didn’t have anything to do with our income or the stability we could provide or the fact that we had already successfully adopted or that we have already parented a child,” she says. “They didn’t even ask us any of those questions. It was strictly because you are in a same sex relationship.”

Currently, faith-based adoption agencies are not penalized for refusing to place children with families who don’t match their religious and moral beliefs. 

They could’ve been under the Obama Administration. But, Trump’s administration reversed the rule.   

So, Tennessee’s bill is redundant — that’s according to some critics, which includes GOP lawmakers. 

And not just because of federal protection. They also say the Tennessee Freedom of Religion Act gives adoption agencies these rights.  

But Sen. Rose says the legislation would make the protections explicit for adoption agencies, just aseight other states have done.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.
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