Kids Pay the Price: Defeating Religious Exemption Programs in Child Welfare

At the recent Creating Change conference in Detroit, Family Equality, represented by Senior Policy Counsel, Shelbi Day, shared about how religious exemptions laws harm LGBTQ+ families and youth. In the panel, “Defeating Religious Exemption Programs in Child Welfare,” Family Equality was joined by the ACLU, Movement Advancement Project, and One Colorado. Participants engaged in the panel with the most updated research and best practices in advocating for LGBTQ+ families across the country.

Family Equality and MAP shared insights from the new joint policy brief, Kids Pay the Price. Currently, more than 123,000 youth are waiting to be adopted – double the number actually placed in adoptive homes. Every year, 20,000 youth age out of foster care without being adopted. These youth then go on to face an increased likelihood of incarceration, human trafficking, homelessness, or unemployment.

Ten states have religious exemption laws allowing child placing agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ+ youth in their care, as well as prospective parents: Michigan, Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina. Family Equality has traveled to several of these states to uplift stories of families and youth affected by these laws.

In Alabama, April and Ginger are a married lesbian couple with an eleven year old adoptive daughter. For years, before marriage equality was the law of the land, they were turned away by adoption agencies. During these same years, over 1,800 children in Alabama’s foster care system were waiting to be adopted.

In Texas, Drew is a current father of two siblings, but over a decade ago, he was turned away and discriminated against by several child-placing agencies because he is gay. At the time, he strongly identified as Christian and wanted to go to Christian organizations. After facing discrimination, he was dissuaded from trying to adopt or foster until years later when he decided to try again and found an agency that would work with him.

As exhibited in these stories, these laws mean that children are kept in foster care or group homes rather than allowing them to be adopted by loving parents who don’t pass an agency’s religious test. There are millions of people, including an estimated two million LGBTQ people, who would consider serving as foster or adoptive parents but for discriminatory laws, policies and practices that prevent or discourage them from doing so.

The federal Every Child Deserves a Family act would prohibit federally funded adoption and foster care agencies from discriminating against children in care or potential parents based on sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. Learn more about the Every Child Deserves a family act at