RELIGION

South Dakota governor to sign religious adoption protections

South Dakota's governor said Friday that he expects to sign a bill giving broad legal protections to faith-based organizations that refuse based on their religious beliefs to place children in certain households.

Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard said that he's concerned private child-placement agencies acting in the best interest of a child could be subject to a lawsuit when denying placement to someone in a "protected class," such as members of the LGBT community. He hopes the legislation would forestall that.

This marks the first time Daugaard has taken a stance on the measure that supporters say preemptively protects religious adoption and foster care agencies from things like state funding cuts, revoked licenses and denied contracts if South Dakota were to eventually ban discrimination based on sexual orientation as several other states have done.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Alan Solano, a Republican from Rapid City, has said religious agencies in Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Washington D.C. ended adoption services after states passed non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation. He doesn't want the same thing to happen in South Dakota, though such a proposal hasn't garnered much support in the state.

Jim Kinyon, executive director of South Dakota's Catholic Social Services, has said that the legislation attempts to ensure the state doesn't discriminate against faith-based organizations for their "sincerely held" beliefs.

Critics think the bill could limit child-placement in the state and could invite costly federal litigation by cementing in state law the right to discriminate against same-sex couples, single parents and even households that observe a different religion.

If Daugaard signs the bill, South Dakota would join Michigan, North Dakota and Virginia to pass so-called religious exemption bills concerning adoption and foster care, and the first since the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage.

Legislatures in Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma are considering similar "religious exemption" bills this year but only South Dakota's as approved it.