The governor of Tennessee signed a controversial law Friday that allows adoption agencies within the state to refuse to place children in homes that "violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies.”
The measure, signed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee, was widely condemned by members of the LGBTQ community for providing legal protections to agencies that reject foster care or adoption applications from same-sex homes. It also prohibits the state from denying agencies licenses or grants for public funding because they have a religious objection to placing a child in a certain home.
“The governor believes that protection of rights is important, especially religious liberty," the governor’s spokesman Gillum Ferguson told the Tennessean. "This bill is centered around protecting the religious liberty of Tennesseans and that’s why he signed it.”
The bill passed in the Tennessee Senate on Jan. 14 with a 20-6 vote. State Sen. Steve Dickerson was the only Republican to vote against it, The Hill reported. Five additional GOP senators abstained. The measure, HB 836, had cleared the state’s House of Representatives in April.
This comes after the Trump administration proposed a new rule in November that would allow faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to continue receiving federal money even if they turn away same-sex couples on the basis of the agencies' religious beliefs.
The rule, floated by the the Department of Health and Human Services, would roll back regulations put in place under former President Barack Obama that included sexual orientation as a protected trait under anti-discrimination protections.
An online petition launched Jan. 15 titled "This Anti LGBTQ+ anti adoption law needs to be repealed. All kids deserve a loving family," has garnered more than 5,000 signatures as of Sunday.
“The amount of citizens adopting is already scarce enough, this law will only add to the problem,” Joshua Lindsey, who launched the petition on Change.org, wrote. “With the restrictions on abortion in this state, foster care and adoption centers will soon be full of children and babies just needing a loving home.”
Other advocacy groups, including the Campaign for Southern Equality, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, have indicated they might pursue legal action.
"This law is clearly discriminatory. As long as the LGBTQ community continues to be targeted by discriminatory laws, we will turn to the courts for recourse," the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, told The Tennessean.
Beach-Ferrara added that a similar law in Michigan was recently halted after the state agreed to settle a lawsuit with the ACLU that ruled adoption agencies could no longer refuse to place children in LGBTQ homes because of religious objections.
In an earlier op-ed in The Tennessean, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which has endorsed the measure, argued it does not discriminate against any group of people – and instead protects children.
"This law prevents the state from discriminating against faith-based organizations as they serve and meet the needs of children. It does not restrict others at all," he wrote.
Fox News' Vandana Rambaran contributed to this report.