Striking the Proper Balance Between Religious Liberty and Civil Rights

Advanced Media Writing

By Robert Thomas

As he sat on the grass outside, eating lunch with his friends on a typical afternoon at school, a very nervous 17-year-old Elias Escobedo considered revealing the deep secret of who he really was to five of his closest friends. He was nearing the end of his senior year in high school and felt that now was the best time to be honest with his current friends. As they discussed a related topic, Escobedo came out and told his friends that he was in fact gay. The group was suddenly filled with silence and blank stares as the sinking feeling of rejection, disappointment, and fear rose in the pit of Escobedo’s stomach. “I got a sinking feeling of ‘Ugh, I know where this is going’,” Escobedo said. “I’d seen enough movies and horror stories about coming out to your friends, and about how people are rejected.” He was socially ostracized by his friends for the ‘crime’ of being himself.

Almost everyone has felt that sinking feeling of rejection and the pain of being turned away for the crime of being oneself. However, perhaps no group understands this pain better, and more consistently, than those who happen to be gay, bisexual or transgender. In Georgia’s state legislature, politicians are now weighing the merits of making it easier for state-funded religious adoption agencies to reject same-sex couples from treatment equal to that of heterosexual couples.

Like Escobedo, many loving same-sex couples are likely to be rejected from state-funded religious adoption agencies simply for being who they are, and a recent Georgia bill that has already passed the senate aims to make it easier to do so. The bill is sponsored by State Sen. William Ligon and would give legal protection to faith-based adoption agencies receiving taxpayer funding that decline to place a child with people whose lifestyle they disagree with, including single parents, unwed couples and LGBT couples. “Just because you are a faith-based organization, doesn’t mean you have to check your faith at the door and cannot participate in government programs,” Ligon said.

Opponents of the bill, however, feel that the bill is a violation of the separation of church and state, and would essentially allow state-sanctioned discrimination by adoption agencies. “When a state is giving such an advantage to faith, I feel that’s definitely a violation of the separation of church and state,” said Pilar Varroa, a student assistant to the Kennesaw State University LGBTQ student group. . The measure is also pushed on despite the fact that faith-based adoption agencies already have the right to reject same-sex couples in the state of Georgia.

However those in support of the bill, such as Elizabeth Norvell, who is a staff member of ‘Cru,’ an interdenominational Christian organization that is active on KSU campus, feel that the bill is necessary. “It sets in stone that they have that protection,” she said. “Because it’s one thing to say ‘Oh yeah they have this protection’ but it’s another thing to say ‘oh here’s a bill that absolutely protects you’”

Norvell also went on to state that she does not believe the bill violates the separation of church and state, and argued that the government also likely supports institutions that she would be opposed to. “I think just because you would disagree with something shouldn’t necessarily prevent the government from supporting it if they think it’s a good idea and they think it would be worth while.”

Another common argument, outside of simple religious reasons, posed by many religious groups who aim to justify restricting same-sex couples from adopting is that adoption by a same-sex couple is more likely to be psychologically detrimental to the welfare of the child. “I personally believe that a child would best be raised by getting a mother and a father’s love versus a same-sex couple,” said Norvell.

However, this strongly held belief seems to contradict the mainstream of current scientific research on the subject. According to new research published by the American Psychology Association, children adopted into lesbian and gay families are as well-adjusted as children adopted by heterosexual parents, and follow similar patterns of gender development. A five-year impact study published in the research journal Sex Roles also found that there is no major difference in the gender identity development of children raised by same-sex parents compared to those adopted by heterosexual couples. KSU psychology professor Daniel Rogers as well echoes the conclusion of these studies. “Like all good science, we just look at the accumulation of evidence and the accumulation of evidence is pretty clear in its conclusion,” Rogers said. “There seems to be very little, if any, differences in outcomes for the child.”

When this professional opinion of the research by Rogers was posed to Norvell, she responded by saying that she would have to have a better view of the research to make a definitive statement on it. “I would need to have a conversation with him and see in detail where he’s coming from before I would make an opinion,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to make a blanket statement like ‘oh this study is wrong’ or ‘this study is right’ without doing more research into the studies.”

While both sides of this issue seem to want what they feel is best for the adoptive child, they have quite different approaches to the solution. Varroa argues that the bill would mean that fewer children are given permanent placement in perfectly loving, safe and secure homes. Varroa as well expressed fear that the bill could cause LGBT youth to be placed with conservative religious families intolerant of their sexual orientation. Those spoke in support of the bill, however, feel it will not affect the number of children that are adopted or that impact will be negligible.

Joseph Campbell, who is in favor of the bill, stated that while he supports faith-based adoption agencies’ ability to choose who they adopt to, he personally feels that regardless who the child is adopted to, the well being of the child should be the highest priority. “Personally I feel that while the rights of adoption agencies are important, whether the parents are gay or straight, the happiness of the child should be of highest concern.”

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