Oklahoma advances adoption bill that could discriminate against gays

Oklahoma resident Lupe Tovar entered the foster-care system when she was just 6 years old, but it wasn't until she was 32 and had long since aged out of the system, that she was formally adopted by her two dads.

"I was one of those young people who aged out and didn't think it would ever happen," she said of her adoption by her long-time mentors. "I am now loved beyond what I can almost handle."

Now in her mid-30s, Tovar is afraid other Oklahomans will not have the opportunity to find the type of love she was able to obtain — even if much later than she had hoped.

The Republican-controlled legislature in Oklahoma passed a bill on Thursday that LGBTQ advocates say would allow religious-based adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples, single people and non-Christians. The bill is now headed toward the governor's desk.

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LGBTQ history makers

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) - Civil rights activist and openly gay man. He served as an advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

(Photo by Patrick A. Burns/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

James Baldwin (1924 – 1987) - Civil rights activist and author from Harlem. He wrote his second novel in 1956 -- "Giovanni's Room." The work dealt explicitly with homosexuality and was published at a time when few other writers dared to publish gay-themed works, according to LGBT History Month

(Photo by Robert Elfstrom/Villon Films/Gety Images)

Alan Turing (1912-1954) - British mathematician whose work is widely acknowledged as the foundation of research in artificial intelligence.

(Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Moms Mabley (1894 – 1975) - Lesbian stand up comedian who starred in films and frequently headlined at the Apollo Theater. 

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) - A famous transgender woman and LGBT activist, Johnson was a veteran of the Stonewall Riot in New York City. She and Sylvia Rivera founded STAR: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1970 to push for trans rights and offer shelter for homeless transgender teens.

(REUTERS/Diana Davies-NYPL/Handout)

Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975) - Singer, dancer and actress who became very popular in France in the 20s. She was also a civil rights activist. Baker was bisexual -- she married and divorced several men, as well as carrying on affairs with women, including Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

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Harvey Milk (1930-1978) - First openly gay man to be elected to public office in California when he served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

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Alexis Arquette (1969 – 2016) - Transgender actress who transitioned to female in her 30s. She is known for her roles in films like “The Wedding Singer” and “Last Exit to Brooklyn.”

(Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)

Sally Ride (1951-2012) - America’s first woman in space waited until her death to tell the world that she was gay. The NASA astronaut’s obituary referred to “her partner of 27 years.” After Ride’s death, her sister wrote in an essay that she hopes “it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them.”

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Lesley Gore (1946 – 2015) - The famous American singer, most known for her hits “It’s My Party” and “You Don’t Own Me,” was openly gay.

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Tennessee Williams (1912-1983) - Williams was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright, who wrote some of Broadway's most successful shows -- including 'A Streetcar Named Desire' and 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.' Several of his works were adapted into Oscar-winning films, starring Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, among other famous actors at the time. 

Williams was in a relationship with his longtime partner, Frank Merlo, for 14 years until Merlo's death in 1963. 

Matthew Shepard (1976 – 1998) - Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming when he was killed in a horrific hate crime. At the time, hate crime laws did not extend to the LGBTQ community. His death sparked a nationwide debate and ultimately led to the passing of new legislation -- the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (2009)

(Photo credit ANDREW CUTRARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992) - She considered herself “a black feminist lesbian mother poet.” She was also a vocal civil rights activist and leader for the advancement of the LGBT community.

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Nancy Kulp (1921 – 1991) - Lesbian actress most known for her role as Miss Jane Hathaway in the popular ‘60s sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies."

(Photo by Bettmann via Getty Images)

Rock Hudson (1925 – 1985) - The legendary actor kept his sexuality a secret at the height of his Hollywood fame in the '60s. Hudson was diagnosed with AIDS in July 1985 and revealed he was gay in a press release just months before he died in October of the same year. 

His death is credited with fueling Elizabeth Taylor's AIDS advocacy. 

Alvin Ailey (1931 – 1989) - American choreographer and LGBT activist, Ailey formed the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in New York City in 1958. His dance company welcomed and celebrated black dancers who were frequently ignored by major companies. 

American drag queen and actor Divine (1945-1988, born Harris Glenn Milstead) - Milstead, who identified as male, found mainstream success with his drag persona -- Divine. Divine's biggest hit was in 1988's 'Hairspray,' playing the role of Edna Turnbald. 

At the peak of his fame, he died of an enlarged heart. 

(Photo by Tim Boxer/Getty Images)

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SB1140, which passed the House by a vote of 60-26, would allow child placement agencies to refuse to place a child if "the proposed placement would violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies." At present, the bill only applies to private placement services that receive no state or federal funds, but supporters are trying to extend the religious exemption to agencies that do receive government funding.

Tovar said it is "heartbreaking" that the opportunity to be adopted "could be taken away" from others in need of a family, particularly in the name of religion. "We are a Christian family," she said of herself and her dads.

Similar adoption laws to the one being pushed through in Oklahoma have been passed in at least seven other states, including Alabama, South Dakota and Texas last year. Kansas and Colorado are currently considering similar legislation.

Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project, said these adoption bills are part of a "broader effort" to "use religious freedom arguments to establish the right to discriminate against LGBT people." She said these laws are "not only harmful to our country's most vulnerable children" but are also "unconstitutional."

The ACLU is currently suing child placement agencies in two separate cases. In one case, a lesbian couple in Texas is suing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after their application to foster refugee children was denied because they didn't "mirror the Holy Family."

Supporters of Oklahoma's SB1140, such as Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, say the alternative would be the "forced closure" of religiously affiliated agencies that could not choose to place children solely with households that share the agency's values.

Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a national LGBTQ rights group, called these bills "patently discriminatory" and characterized the argument in favor of them as "illogical and inconsistent with data."

"The true obstacle is a lack of suitable parents," Oakley argued, not a lack of placement agencies. She cited an analysis by HRC which found that from 2006 to 2011, when Catholic Charities withdrew from child placement services in Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and Illinois, neither the child placement rate nor the average time a child spent in care changed substantially.

"Over 100,000 children in the U.S. foster care system are in need of a permanent, adoptive family. An estimated 2 million LGBTQ adults are interested in adoption," the HRC analysis stated.

As for the public, a 2017 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan and nonprofit research organization, found the majority of Americans oppose allowing religiously affiliated adoption agencies — whether they receive federal funding or not — from refusing to place children with gay and lesbian people.

Christie Appelhanz, executive director of Children's Alliance of Kansas, the largest association of child welfare providers in the state, said her organization opposes Kansas' Adoption Protection Act and will "continue to fight against this bill."

Appelhanz said there is a "record number of children in state custody in Kansas" and the state needs "all qualified families."

"Prejudice and discrimination are bad for children no matter the family structure," she said, adding that her state's bill "signals to children that bias is not only acceptable, but virtuous."

As for Tovar, who now works in the field of child welfare herself, she said her adoption gave her a "sense of empowerment" and two dads who are "there to lift me up, to cheer me on and cry with me when I go through the hard stuff." She said she hopes all children in foster care have that same opportunity to find a loving family.

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