Gay couple with 9 adopted kids talks TN bill allowing agencies to deny same sex couples

The Williams family (Image: Leslie Zechman)

A bill working its way through the Tennessee legislature would allow adoption agencies to deny same sex couples.

We spoke with a local gay couple who's more than familiar with the adoption process in Tennessee, as they've taken in nine children together.

It's something the Robert Rutledge Williams and his husband Scott Williams say they've been forced to prove since they decided to adopt: their worthiness to raise children.

"Every system it seemed, we were good enough to be care providers, but not parents," said Robert Rutledge Williams.

Now, as they're looking expand their family even further, Robert and Scott could face a legal battle if they decided to adopt through certain agencies.

"[We're] actually nine and counting," said Scott Williams.

House Bill 836 says no adoption agency would be required to place a child with a family if it would "violate the agency's written religious or moral conditions or policies."

Supporters say the move is needed to protect against potential lawsuits hostile to the group's religious beliefs.

Some faith based agencies already to not allow gay couples to adopt, but this measure would provide legal protections to agencies that do.

"Its wrong, and its devastating to think that someone could discriminate against us for loving each other," said Scott.

The bill overwhelmingly passed in the House with a 67-22 vote last week. It would still need to pass the Senate and be signed by Governor Bill Lee to go into law.

However, some say this bill could quickly face other challenges.

"Its definitely targeted towards gay couples," said Daniel Barnes with the law firm of Griffin & Davis in Sparta, Tennessee.

Barnes says other states have attempted to pass similar legislation. The landmark civil rights case Obergefell v. Hodges stands in the way. It give gays the right to marry, and grants them equal rights to heterosexual couples.

"It will probably be the ACLU to bring the challenge here. and I would imagine they would win," said Barnes.

Kansas and Oklahoma passed similar legislation last year. In terms with a legal settlement from the American Civil Liberties Union, the state of Michigan last month announced it would cease to fund adoption agencies denying services to same-sex couples on religious grounds.

Despite being outnumbered, the Williams say loving these children is easy part. It's convincing some people that two dads are better than none.

"The person that is choosing to write this bill, let it go on, please contact me and feel free to babysit any day of the week, because I don't know exactly how many children they have, but I'm sure their numbers aren't up to nine, and if they can do this any better than I can, go for it." said Robert.

This bill doesn't only affect adoption. It applies to all licensed "child placing agencies' which includes foster care, adoption, ground homes and other services.

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