Texas Lawmakers Revive 'Bathroom Bill,' OK Religious Refusal Of Adoptions

May 22, 2017
Originally published on May 22, 2017 1:04 pm

Late Sunday and early Monday, Texas legislators advanced a version of the divisive "bathroom bill" regulating transgender students' restroom access and passed a law that would allow publicly funded adoption agencies to refuse to work with would-be parents based on religious objections.

The "bathroom bill" proposal, which would affect public schools, was introduced as an amendment to a bill about emergency procedures at schools. It passed the House on Sunday but still needs approval from the state Senate, which is expected to support it.

The legislation to allow religious exemptions for adoption and foster care has passed the Senate on Monday and now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

From bathroom bill to bathroom amendment

The bathroom bill amendment comes after months of debate in Texas over a broader, stand-alone bathroom bill. Proponents of the legislation object to transgender people using bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity, often citing concerns over the privacy of women and girls. Critics of this proposal, and others like it, say such measures threaten the civil rights and safety of trans youths.

The language in the amendment is narrower than versions previously proposed in Texas. It's also smaller in scope than a law that passed with enormous backlash, and was later partially repealed, in North Carolina. It would cover Texas public schools, not all bathrooms in publicly owned buildings.

The amendment says that schools must provide single-occupancy bathrooms for "a student who does not wish to use the facilities designated for use or commonly used by persons of the student's biological sex." It also prepares for a face-off with the federal government over the issue, writing that the attorney general will defend any school that wishes to fight a constitutional challenge over this issue.

Although the language was pared down from previous versions, Democrats remained steadfast in their opposition, the Texas Tribune reports:

" 'Let's be honest and clear here: This amendment is the bathroom bill, and the bathroom bill is an attack on transgender people,' said state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso. 'Some people don't want to admit that. Maybe that's because they're ashamed, but make no mistake about it — this is shameful.' "

State Rep. Chris Paddie of Marshall, the Republican who wrote the amendment, said it is "absolutely about child safety ... about accommodating all kids," the AP reports.

"Sincerely held religious beliefs" exemption for adoption agencies

Meanwhile, the state Legislature has also approved a bill that would permit publicly funded adoption agencies to deny services to would-be parents based on religious objections.

The text does not specify certain kinds of "sincerely held religious beliefs" that are protected over others (as Mississippi's "religious freedom" law famously did).

"This bill doesn't prohibit particular groups from adopting," said Republican bill sponsor Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock, according to the AP. "It doesn't establish one faith over another."

But critics of the bill say it would effectively enable state-funded adoption agencies to turn away single, gay or non-Christian people.

Supporters say it will expand the adoption opportunities in the state, by attracting religious organizations to participate in programs.

The bill includes other provisions, protecting the rights of foster and adoptive parents to send their children to religious schools and ensuring that there would be no "adverse action" against a foster parent or adoptive parent who refuses to help a child acquire birth control or an abortion.

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