- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Private agencies would be able to cite religious or moral grounds to turn away gay couples seeking to adopt children under a bill that drew comparisons Thursday to Indiana’s new religious objections law.

The bill was filed after social conservatives criticized a vote last month by the Republican-dominated House to strip a gay adoption ban from state law five years after it was declared unconstitutional. The new bill is now ready for a full House vote after being approved on party lines in the House Judiciary Committee, the legislation’s only committee stop.

Republican Rep. Jason Brodeur of Sanford said the bill (HB 7111) would apply to only a handful of the state’s 82 private adoption agencies, and if gay couples want to adopt, they can go to the Department of Children and Families or one of the agencies that doesn’t have religious or moral objections to their raising a child.

“This does not have any prohibition on whether or not gay couples can adopt in Florida,” Brodeur said.

But Democratic Rep. Dave Kerner of Palm Springs said no agency, regardless of whether it’s religion based, should discriminate against anyone - especially if it’s receiving state money. And if it discriminates, it should get out of the adoption business, he said.

“We should be thanking gay parents for adopting. We should be thanking them and blessing them,” Kerner said. “We should not be using our time here in the Legislature to continue these antiquated beliefs that folks that have a different sexual orientation than us would not make good parents.”

Critics testifying against the bill compared it to the so-called “religious freedom” law enacted last month in Indiana.

“These agencies are contracted by the state to do the work of government. They are funded by taxpayers to do this, which means this bill is even worse than Indiana,” said Carlos Smith of the gay rights group Equality Florida. “It promotes state-sanctioned and taxpayer-funded discrimination.”

But several religious groups said they support the bill, and Bill Bunkley said it reflects what’s already happening in Florida.

“There’s a lot of talk about what this bill is going to do, a lot of parade of horribles, but I’ll give you a news flash: This is the way we’ve been doing things,” said Bunkley, president of the Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Still, Florida National Organization for Women lobbyist Barbara DeVane said the bill will hurt children.

“If you call yourself a Christian, just ask yourself: How would Jesus vote today? My Bible says we are all made in God’s image, not some of us,” DeVane said.

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Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bsfarrington

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