TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer signed legislation Friday granting legal protections to faith-based adoption agencies that cite their religious beliefs for not placing children in LGBT homes, an action that quickly became an issue as he runs this year to keep his office.
The Republican governor signed the measure during a ceremony at a Christian boys' home outside Wichita, surrounded by supporters who view it as a religious-freedom measure. But the Democratic Party and one of Colyer's opponents in the GOP primary immediately criticized him as supporting discrimination.
The new law takes effect July 1. Under the policy, agencies cannot be barred from providing foster care or adoption services for the state if they refuse to place children in homes violating their "sincerely held" religious beliefs. In Oklahoma, term-limited Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed similar legislation last week; seven other states have such policies.
Supporters contend that such laws prevent adoption agencies from facing lawsuits over their faith-based placement policies or hostile actions from state officials who disagree with their views. Catholic agencies in California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., stopped handling adoptions over the past dozen years.
The top administrator at the Kansas Department for Children and Families, who reports to Colyer, argued that such a law would encourage faith-based agencies to place more foster children in adoptive homes or to start doing such placements.
"By keeping faith-based adoption agencies in our state, we give more children the opportunity to be adopted," Colyer said in a statement.
Critics argued that the bill would allow taxpayer-funded discrimination, particularly against LGBT couples. They also said such a policy makes Kansas look backward.
"The governor has said he wants to bring businesses and young people into the state," said former state Sen. Jim Barnett, a Topeka physician seeking to unseat Colyer in the GOP primary in August. "This does just the opposite."
Colyer was elevated from lieutenant governor to governor in January when former conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback resigned to become U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom. Brownback was a strong opponent of gay marriage.
Colyer faces a strong challenge on the political right from Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who praised the legislation and promised Friday to "work tirelessly" to defend religious liberty.
But Barnett and the Kansas Democratic Party said Colyer's action ties him firmly to the Brownback, whose popularity waned before he left office.
The Democratic Party's statement also took a shot at independent candidate Greg Orman, a Kansas City-area businessman. It noted that Orman's running mate, state Sen. John Doll, of Garden City, voted for the legislation.
But Orman tweeted earlier this month: "As governor, I would never sign a bill that condones discrimination against any individual or family."
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .