On Wednesday, June 5, 2019, Congressman John Lewis and Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón reintroduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which seeks to end discrimination in foster care, adoption, and child welfare, and to promote affirming care for all foster youth. A broad coalition of more than 500 child welfare, faith, civil rights and LGBTQ organizations welcomed the bill’s introduction and urged Congress to act swiftly to protect this vulnerable population.
The Every Child Deserves a Family Act (ECDF) prohibits federally funded child welfare service providers from discriminating against children, families, and individuals based on religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status. The ECDF Act would also prevent discrimination against any foster youth because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
When foster or adoption agencies receive federal funding, they agree to follow federal non-discrimination laws. However, an increasing number of faith-based agencies are citing religious freedom as an exemption from these laws and denying applicants that do not live, love, or worship as they do. This misinterpretation of religious freedom hurts foster youth by needlessly restricting the pool of placements, causing them to remain in care for longer than necessary, and violating prospective parents’ freedom of belief.
In a statement marking the introduction, Congressman Lewis said, “Too many children dream of a stable, loving family. Many adults want to open their homes and their hearts, but they also are facing more and more barriers, because some officials can say they practice the wrong religion, love the wrong person, or are not married.”
“The Every Child Deserves a Family Act puts the happiness and well-being of our children front and center,” he continued, “engaging every possible match between solid families and children searching for a home. We must each do our part to ensure that every young person and capable, aspiring parents are able to enjoy the dream of a loving, stable family together.”
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a companion bill in the Senate on June 11, saying, “We should never allow organizations that receive taxpayer dollars to discriminate against caring and responsible foster and adoptive parents or children who deserve a safe and happy place to live because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or religion. My legislation would end this outrageous discriminatory policy, create a system that supports the best interests of children, foster, and adoptive parents alike, and help open doors for more children in need.”
Religious freedom and non-discrimination protections are complementary values, rooted in the fundamental principle that every person should be treated equally under the law. It is more critical than ever for Congress to set a national standard by which all individuals and families impacted by the child welfare system are treated. Eliminating discrimination in federally funded foster care and adoption would increase the number and diversity of safe, happy, and healthy permanent homes.
The ECDF Act furthers Interfaith Alliance’s central mission: to ensure that every American enjoys the same freedoms under the law as their neighbors. We urge Congress to move quickly to ensure that every child finds a home and that every qualified family has the opportunity to make their family whole.
Interfaith Alliance is a proud member of the Every Child Deserves a Family Campaign, which promotes the best interests of all children in the foster care and adoption system by increasing their access to loving, stable, forever homes. Together, we challenge state and federal laws permitting discrimination and amplify the voices of LGBTQ+ parents and youth. Learn more about the Campaign.