My name is Sean Young and I am the Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia. I wish to speak out today against SB 375 from both a legal and a personal perspective.
Placing children who have been neglected and abused with loving homes is one of the most important responsibilities that the government has. And the Establishment Clause forbids the government from using religious doctrine to decide how to place children or carry out other government functions. So, when the state contracts out child welfare services to private agencies and pays them taxpayer dollars, it can’t authorize those agencies to perform government functions using religious criteria that the state itself obviously cannot use.
For example, this bill would allow Jewish child placement agencies to limit their placements to Jewish homes even if it is in the child’s best interest to be placed in a Christian home. And if it is in the best interests of a medically needy child to be placed with a loving doctor and her same-sex spouse, that agency can use their religious beliefs to delay or deny the child’s placement with that couple.
Some testified at least week’s subcommittee hearing that this bill is necessary to prevent discrimination against conservative Christian households who have a traditional view of marriage. But nothing prevents conservative Christian households from adopting children. If anything, this bill authorizes discrimination against conservative Christian households by allowing non-Christian child-placing agencies to refuse placements with households deemed too theologically conservative.
In other words, when the government enables one person’s interpretation of Scripture to be imposed on third parties to their detriment-like the child or the couple that wants to adopt them-that is a violation of the Establishment Clause. That’s why the ACLU is currently challenging a similar scheme in Michigan right now in federal court.
If I can get personal for a second, this bill also hits very close to home for me on many levels. Believe me when I say I understand first-hand where the supporters of this bill may be coming from. When I was 13, I became a born-again Christian: my parents didn’t force it on me. I did not hate gay people or try to harm them. I just knew that religion was more than just church on Sundays, and that God, through his Word, called upon me to publicly live out the gospel and teachings of Jesus Christ in my everyday life, which I felt was quite difficult in a world where media and social trends were quite hostile to Christianity.
But as fate or God would have it, I now find myself on the other side of this bill.
That’s because I eventually came out of the closet, after years of profound struggle with my relationship with God, with the Biblical text that I knew inside and out, and with depression. I went to ex-gay conversion therapy conferences; I talked about my “struggle with homosexuality”; I even led an ex-gay group. But I eventually embraced who I was and developed my own personal relationship with God which doesn’t fall into any neat category.
I’m now in a committed relationship with a man that I love, and we’ve discussed the possibility of adopting through the child welfare system someday.
And it hurts me so deeply to know that under this law, people in child placing agencies who once would have considered me their brother in Christ, can now turn me away because of who I love, because their interpretation of Scripture says that I’m unfit to be a father or that I’m not a real Christian. They think they know me because of who I love, even though I have wrestled with God and Biblical text probably more than they could possibly know. Of course, it’s their right to say and think whatever they want.
But this bill allows someone else’s interpretation of Scripture to dictate whether I can provide a loving home to a child who needs it – which is the epitome of Christ-like love. It’s like the government is telling me that I don’t count, that my religious journey doesn’t count, and that other people’s religious beliefs are superior to who I am and everything that I have been through.
Please don’t do this to me or others like me. Please vote against SB 375.