Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Florida House moves ‘conscience protection’ bill forward

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The Florida House today passed a controversial bill that its sponsor says would protect the religious rights of private adoption agencies, but Democrats, LGBT activists and others say gives those agencies carte blanche to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur’s bill emerged in the past month, immediately after the House passed a measure that repealed the ban on gay adoption from state statute. Gay couples have been allowed to adopt since the 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled the ban unconstitutional back in 2010, but the law banning such couples had never previously been removed.

Brodeur’s bill has zipped through various committee, but came before the entire House for the first time on Wednesday. And House Democrats were ready to do whatever it was necessary to oppose the measure, including the introduction of a number of amendments.

Leading the opposition was Miami Beach Democrat David Richardson, the legislator whose amendment to remove the ban on gay adoption from state law led to the legislative response, fueled in part by angry social conservatives.

Brodeur maintained throughout the hours-long discussion that his bill was simply about protecting religious liberties, and that private adoption agencies should not be discriminated against by the state of Florida for their views.

The language initially proposed today specifically says that actions could not be taken against those agencies for refusing to place a child with a family that would violate that agency’s “written religious or moral convictions or policies.”

“It’s not a sword, it’s a shield,” Brodeur repeated like a mantra throughout the afternoon.

During the debate, Christian Right activist John Stemberger emailed to his followers that if the House bill repealing the ban on gay adoption stands, “My best estimate is that at between 40-65 percent of the faith-based adoption agencies in Florida will shut down due to the overwhelming legal challenges they will encounter when they honor their faith and show a preference for placing children in homes with both mothers and fathers.”

As Democrats proposed amendment after amendment, their proposals were rejected by the GOP-led Republican House. But those amendments were shot down only after other Democrats explained that their amendments were intended to stop any type of discrimination from occurring.

Yet Brodeur himself confessed during the floor debate that he didn’t know of a single agency that has had to shut down since the courts struck down the ban on gay adoption. When asked why there was a need for such a law, he has consistently mentioned private adoption agencies in Massachusetts and other states that have been forced to shut down their businesses.

After over three hours of debate, the Democrats ran out of amendments, and the bill advanced for a third hearing.

While the House debated the Brodeur bill, all eyes were on the Senate, which was scheduled to meet later in the day to hear Lakeland Republican Kelli Stargel’s bill that would specifically challenge the 3rd DCA’s ruling on gay adoption.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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