New South Dakota Law Legalizes LGBTQ Discrimination

March 13th 2017

A new law passed by South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard will allow state-funded child service agencies to deny support to LGBTQ couples and individuals on the grounds of religious liberty. The bill is the first to be passed on the grounds of religious freedom since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide in 2015.

Dennis DaugaardFlickr - flickr.com

Senate Bill 149, signed into law Friday, states that child placement agencies, which include adoption agencies and foster care, are free to refuse service under any circumstance that may conflict with “sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction.” Leading advocacy groups including the Human Rights Campaign and ACLU have raised concerns that the bill will open child service agencies, which support over 1,200 foster children in the state, to deny adoption and foster services to minority groups including LGBTQ couples, single parents, and mixed-faith couples. 

“We’re deeply disappointed by Governor Daugaard’s decision to green light Senate Bill 149,” Libby Skarin, policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota, said in a statement issued Friday. “This discriminatory legislation takes South Dakota in the wrong direction, and sends the message that our leaders are more concerned with the desires of religious agencies than the rights of individuals and children in our state.” The ACLU said they are "examining legal options" in response to the bill. 

The office of Gov. Daugaard did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Other LGBTQ advocacy groups and individuals have also come out in opposition to the bill. Expressing concern that claims of religious freedom are being abused to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and other minority populations.

Although the first of its kind this year, the bill follows in the footsteps of similar legislation in Michigan, North Dakota, and Virginia, which protect the rights of state-supported entities to refuse services on the grounds of religious liberty. This South Dakota bill also shows similarities to the First Amendment Defense Act, which would prohibit the federal government from cracking down on businesses or individuals who discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community on the grounds of religious belief. The bill received severe pushback when it was proposed in 2015, but Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah have expressed interest in reintroducing the bill while President Donald Trump is in office.

Trump has championed the FADA, and openly supported legislation proposed on religious liberty grounds. “Religious liberty is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is our first liberty and provides the most important protection in that it protects our right of conscience,” Trump said in a September press release titled, Issues of Importance to Catholics. “If I am elected president and Congress passes the First Amendment Defense Act, I will sign it to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths.”

Similar legislation is working its way through states including AlabamaOklahoma and Texas, the last of which has the second highest number of foster children in the country.