- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama would allow adoption agencies - including those with state contracts - to refuse to place children with same-sex couples on religious grounds, under a bill introduced in the Alabama Legislature.

Republican Sen. Gerald Allen of Tuscaloosa introduced the bill last week specifying that groups could refuse to participate in adoptions and foster care placements that violate their religious beliefs. The bill would also prohibit the state from refusing to license, or contract with, the groups that refuse services to people on religious grounds.

Allen said he brought the bill to protect the faith-based groups, including children’s homes affiliated with the Baptist and Catholic churches, in anticipation that the U.S. Supreme Court could legalize same-sex marriage nationwide later this year.

“It’s not that they are discriminating against same-sex couples, they are observing their own rights and beliefs,” said Eric Johnston, an attorney who worked on the bill.

Opponents said the bill would provide legal cover for discrimination against a diverse array of families seeking to adopt.

“Decisions about prospective parents should be based on the best interest of the child, not on discriminatory factors unrelated to good parenting,” said Human Rights Campaign Alabama state director R. Ashley Jackson.

The bill does not specify same-sex marriage but only says that the groups can refuse services that violate their religious beliefs. Jackson said that would allow the groups to refuse people of certain faiths, or at least give preference to people of a certain faith.

Johnston said gay couples could still adopt in Alabama through secular or other adoption agencies.

Alabama is the latest state to take up “religious freedom” bills regarding gay marriage.

The Alabama House of Representatives has approved a bill that would grant civil immunity for judges and ministers who refuse to marry gay couples. Johnston said legislation will probably be introduced this session to provide civil protections to florists, bakers and others who refuse to provide services at same-sex weddings.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on April 28 regarding whether gay and lesbian couples have a fundamental right to marry and whether states can ban such unions.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources did not have an immediate comment on the legislation.

Gay and lesbian couples began marrying in some Alabama counties on Feb. 9 after a federal judge ruled Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The Alabama Supreme Court in March ordered probate judges to stop issuing the licenses to same-sex couples.

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