The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports
Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed Senate Bill 149
into law on Friday. The governor explained the measure, which allows religious- or faith-based adoption agencies to deny child placement to unmarried or same-sex couples, is meant to shield such agencies with "sincerely-held religious beliefs or moral conviction" — even if they are bigoted or discriminatory — from lawsuits.
Although the law does not specifically mention LGBTQ people or any specific beliefs that may warrant discrimination against them, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's most prominent LGBTQ civil rights advocacy group, said the legislation “signals the potential of a dark new reality for the fight for LGBTQ rights.”
“LGBTQ children in South Dakota’s foster care system face the risk of staying in a facility that does not affirm their identity and actively works against the child’s well being by refusing to give them appropriate medical and mental health care,” HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement
Advocates point to research
showing LGBTQ youth are already overrepresented in the foster care system, as many have been rejected by their families due to their sexual orientation. "These young people are already vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment while in foster care, and SB 149 would only exacerbate the challenges they face," Warbelow warned.
Adoption advocacy organizations including Voices for Adoption, Adoption Exchange and the Child Welfare League of America have announced their opposition to the law, which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called "discriminatory legislation."
“These laws run contrary to one of our core American values — the rule of law, which means we are all held to and protected by the same laws,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT Project, said
in a statement. “These religious exemptions laws run contrary to this belief by encouraging people to pick and choose which laws they are going to follow based on their religious beliefs.”
However, Daugaard explained he was worried about Child Placement Services facing lawsuits by people in a "protected class."
"I'm worried that a child placement agency may make what is in the best interest of the child a correct decision but be subject to a lawsuit by someone who has a little bit of a leg up by virtue of being in a protective class," Daugaard said. "And if we can forestall that with this legislation then I'm willing to do that." The governor, who is also formerly director of the Children's Home Society, which places children in adoptive and foster families, added that "we need to do everything we can to encourage those agencies to stay in this business and help us find... placements."
James Kinyon, executive director of Catholic Social Services in Rapid City, welcomed the new law. "It allows us to do what we can for the common good," he told the Argus Leader
SB 149 is the first so-called "religious freedom" law passed since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges
case. Three other states — Michigan, North Dakota and Virginia — have enacted similar laws, while Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma are advancing similar bills this year. Other states, including Arkansas, Georgia and Indiana, have abandoned or passed weakened "religious freedom" legislation following public outrage and business boycotts. Religious agencies in California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, DC ended adoption services after those places passed laws barring discrimination.