OKLAHOMA CITY - A bill, passed on to the house floor Tuesday, would require the state to do business with child welfare and adoption agencies - even if they turn down prospective parents because their religious beliefs or morals don't align.
Opponents of the bill said it opens the door for agencies to turn away same-sex or unmarried couples that are looking to adopt children.
"I think [the bill] is a huge step backwards," said Tamera Maresh-Carver, who adopted a son with her now-wife eight years ago. "We look at it and we think: there are families like us that have the ability to give a kid a home. And, we provide a really loving home, and you have kids who really need a home, and it seems like we get in our own way a whole lot of times."
Her wife, Chere Carver, can remember the trouble the couple went through trying to adopt their son, traveling six hours to find a court that would grant the adoption.
Now, she and her wife fear children will be the victims of what they call a discriminatory bill, particularly concerning as they consider adopting another child.
"I think most people who work with the children in the system who need a home are there for the best interest of the child," said Maresh-Carver. "This would be just a huge blow to families across the board."
But, the bill's author tells NewsChannel 4 she wrote the bill to be inclusive,not exclusive.
Rep. Sally Kern (R-Bethany) said the point is to ensure religious-based organizations continue to provide adoption services in the state.
Without the bill, Kern said many must choose to violate their morals or close their doors.
The state of Michigan passed a similar bill last year.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops cited a similar issue in Boston in 2006.
Kern points out her bill, which passed a committee on a 5-2, party-line vote, does not specifically mention same-sex parents.
A key section of the law reads:
"[T]he state, including any agency, department, commission or board, shall not refuse to contract or enter into an agreement with a child welfare service provider on the basis that the provider has declined or will decline to provide, facilitate or refer for a child welfare service that conflicts with, or under circumstances that conflict with, the provider's sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions which are clearly expressed in the mission statement, articles of organization or certificate of incorporation of the provider."
“HB2428 ensures that state organizations cannot refuse to enter into a contract with a child placing agency because of their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions," she told NewsChannel 4 in a statement. "It does not change how adoptions are done in Oklahoma.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services told NewsChannel 4 the bill would have little effect on DHS, because the agency is already all-inclusive when it comes to adoption.