NBC News story on religious liberty, adoption and gay couples dropped the ball


This Thanksgiving Day story by Julie Moreau for NBC News is about how some Christian ministries are preventing children from being adopted or fostered by homosexual couples. It quickly drew my attention for a rather obvious reason: As an adoptive mom, I am interested in the topic. However, this feature had way too many holes in it.

I am in favor of letting all parties adopt: Gay, straight, whatever, as long as folks pass all the background checks required with any home study. While searching for an agency to help me find a child, I was infuriated by certain Christian agencies that would not let single people use their services. (Did I sue them? No, I spent my money on a better agency.)

Their mentality was that singles were lesser beings and that kids deserved a two-parent family. Well, yes, in a perfect world, that’d be nice. But in an age of orphans and thousands of kids in state foster care systems, we need all hands on deck.

So, the premise that nasty religious folks are sending more kids onto the street is a gripping one. But some copy-desk errors plus the reporter’s tone deafness to the doctrinal concerns of Catholics and evangelical Christians led me to dismiss much of the piece.

It’s also a product of NBC Out, a branch of the news room targeted toward news of interest toward gay folks. Wish they had as nice a spread for coverage of religion, which affects a far greater slice of the population. If this article is typical of that desk’s output, then its “out desk” has more of a cheerleading function than a news gathering one. It starts thus:

Religious exemption laws allowing child placement agencies to deny LGBTQ prospective parents from fostering or adopting are exacerbating the current “child welfare crisis,” according to a new report from the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP), Voice for Adoption and the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

“Turning away LGBTQ prospective parents by asserting a religious exemption or taking advantage of a lack of state nondiscrimination law is a violation of this group’s rights,” the report states. “It also negatively affects the already strained child welfare system, ultimately harming the children in its care.”

Out of some 443,000 kids in the U.S. foster care system, the report says, some 50,000 are adopted each year, but another 20,000 age out before being adopted. That is, they turn 18.

Let’s keep reading.

“Same-sex couples raising children are seven times more likely to be raising a foster child and seven times more likely to be raising an adopted child than their different-sex counterparts,” the report states, citing data from the UCLA’s Williams Institute. “They are also more likely to adopt older children and children with special needs, who are statistically less likely to be adopted.”

I’ve heard the same thing, unofficially.

At present, 10 states — Alabama, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia — have laws allowing religiously affiliated placement agencies to turn away LGBTQ parents, and even refuse to place LGBTQ children.

This trend is actually gaining momentum. That is, four of these states passed laws allowing religious exemptions in 2018 alone. Why are they doing this? I understand the writer’s righteous indignation about the issue. But these states –- and not all of them are Bible Belt states –- are doing this for a reason.

Can we find out why? Maybe it has something to do with the First Amendment and religious liberty?

Also, the sentence about refusing to adopt out LGBTQ kids is never followed up on. What’s up with that? This earlier NBC story explains that gay parents are more open to adopting older gay kids. Take out the parents and the kids have no home. I get that but Moreau does not explain it well.

It’s not only gay couples who are discriminated against; one place in South Carolina turned a Jewish couple away. Read this piece in the Greenville News to get a fuller explanation. It says there are 10 other church-affiliated adoption agencies in the state that take all comers but the one exception, Miracle Hill, takes a boutique approach, cultivating a specific Christian base for its kids. Miracle Hill says they attract parents who would ordinarily never adopt. By offering a narrower approach, they feel they are enlarging the amount of available parents. It is not the approach I’d take but they have a logic to what they do.

I am curious. If there was, say, a Muslim agency out there or an Amish or Mormon one that made it clear that any kids they process would end up in (pick one) Muslim, Amish or Mormon homes, wouldn’t that be a draw for families from those traditions? Again, it’s a boutique approach but it might open up a population of families who might not adopt otherwise.

Also, Christian agencies get the full brunt of the article’s scorn but how about mentioning a massive Christian effort in Oregon to get 884 evangelical families to adopt unwanted kids? Please read my brother Steve Duin’s 2013 piece in the Oregonian; a narrative where evangelicals are the heroes instead of Scrooges.

Also read co-GetReligionista Bobby Ross’ piece for Religion News Service on how Southern Baptists in Oklahoma are part of the reason why the state has recruited 4,200 new foster families since 2012. That is a stunning amount.

There are places where the article does not make sense. After a paragraph talking about the higher percentages of foster care youth in Texas, we hear:

In Texas, which has had a religious exemption law for child placement agencies since 2017, the number of foster and adoptive homes working with licensed child placement agencies has decreased nearly 40 percent from 2012 to 2017, according to data from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Huh? So … the religious exemption apparently had nothing to do with the lack of foster and adoptive homes in the Lone Star state? Or is there a typo somewhere in there?

I kept on looking for a response from the discriminating agencies themselves but didn’t find much.

It’s a familiar structure GetReligion has noted for years: From the left side of the spectrum, we got interesting quotes from real people. From the right side of the spectrum, the reporter lifted verbiage off press releases. Couldn’t she have at least put in a call to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other groups that have taken the contrary stand on this issue?

There are really good stories out there in the religion/adoptive/foster world and I hope more reporters seek them out. But if you do so, please trying interviewing people on both sides, OK? It’s called “journalism.”

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