JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said he will sign into law a measure that would assure continued taxpayer funding of faith-based foster care and adoption agencies, even if they exclude LGBTQ families and others based on religious beliefs.
The GOP-controlled Senate approved the measure on Tuesday.
You can watch Tuesday’s Tennessee Senate Session here.
Pheben Kassahun spoke with a local lawmaker who voted against the measure and an adoptive parent who believes the focus should be on kids in the system, rather than a family’s beliefs.
“It’s really good for the kids to be taken care of, in a home to overcome trauma. Most of these kids are very traumatized, and they need to be nurtured and loved,” Michael Quinton said.
Some kids are not able to live in a safe home or with family. Because of this, more than 8,100 of them are in the Tennessee foster care system.
“I became a foster parent on April of 2016, in order to get a great-nephew,” Quinton said. “He was awarded to the state in DCS custody. He came home in May of 2016 and I was able to adopt him at the end of March 2017, through DCS.”
Quinton is gay and lives in the Knoxville area. He started taking care of his two great-nephews after their biological parents’ rights were terminated.
“If I wouldn’t have stepped in, he would have been out, somewhere we would have never known about him, how he was doing. I was able to get him back within the family, and with his biological youngest brother who was previously adopted,” Quinton said.
Sen. Jon Lundberg said, “I blue-lighted it, which means I’m not going to vote on it. I’m not going to vote on legislation that reiterates the same thing and doesn’t make any policy changes to what we’re doing.”
Lundberg is a Republican senator for the fourth district. He resides in Bristol, Tennessee.
He said it is provisional to Tennessee’s Religious Freedom Restoration act of 2009.
“So, in my mind, if you say what action did we take as a state government, we added another page to our lawbook, and it literally didn’t do anything,” Lundberg said. “It was redundant and used some of the same language, and frankly that was my concern. Candidly, I would tell you what changes, and I should go back a little bit. It has passed the House and the Senate so it goes to the governor’s desk for signature. He will likely sign that maybe this week or next. If you ask what exactly will change, I would tell you nothing. There is no policy difference that any agency is going to be dealing with.”
However, Quinton believes more needs to be done to make kids in the foster care system a priority.
“We’re all humans, regardless of our skin color or lifestyle or orientation. Ultimately, it affects the children more,” Quinton said.
He said he understands both sides but hopes agencies can have a little more compassion.
“If I knew their beliefs, I wouldn’t intentionally go and try to foster from them to cause a stir up or to make them feel uncomfortable. At the same time, we have to respect folks’ background and their beliefs,” he said.
“It puts me in the middle. I know I wouldn’t go to Smokey Mountains Home in Sevierville and try to foster or adopt through them. Perception is, they wouldn’t be open to that,” Quinton said.