- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The Florida House passed a bill Thursday to let private adoption agencies turn away gay couples based on religious and moral grounds. Conservatives sponsored the measure as a response to a bill that the House passed last month to take an unenforced gay adoption ban out of state law.

The 75-38 vote came after more than an hour of debate, with Republicans saying the measure was needed to protect religious rights.

Republican Rep. Jason Brodeur of Sanford said the measure wasn’t about discrimination, and said gay couples would still have dozens of agencies - state agencies and those not faith-based, for example - that didn’t object to gay adoptive parents.

“If you are thinking about adopting a child, go do it. Gay, heterosexual - go do it,” he said. “If there is one thing that I hate, it’s the thought of intolerance and selfishness getting in the way of uniting one of those children with a forever family.”

Still, Democrats questioned whether the true reason for the bill was simply using religion as an excuse to discriminate against gays, and doing so hurts children.

“When we come in and we start using scripture to begin to discriminate against individuals, I have a problem with that,” said Democrat Rep. Shevrin Jones of Broward County. “Yes, protect the religious institution, but I say to those religious institutions as a man of faith, if it’s your ministry, do your ministry and take care of the children.”

The bill has been compared to the religious objections law Indiana enacted last month. Supporters say faith-based organizations handling adoptions will stop offering services if the bill isn’t passed.

“We need as many options as possible to place children in homes where they can have a family for the rest of their lives. No one is forcing anyone to use that particular adoption agency,” said Republican Rep. Elizabeth Porter of Lake City. “Just pick another. That allows you your freedom to make your choice without being discriminated against, but it allows that agency to have their freedom and adhere to their religious tenets.”

The bill now goes to the Senate, which rejected similar language Wednesday in a separate adoption bill. That bill, already approved by the House, strips the gay adoption ban from state law to comply with a five-year-old court decision saying it was unconstitutional.

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