Gay Tennessee Dads with 9 Kids Speak Out as State Lawmakers Advance Bill Denying Adoption Rights

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday April 11, 2019

State lawmakers in Tennessee approved a bill that would shield taxpayer-funded adoption agencies with "religious" or "moral" objections to same-sex or LGBTQ parents from lawsuits claiming discrimination. That places families like Robert Rutledge and Scott Williams and their nine adopted children right in the crosshairs of those who would deny them services based not on the content of their characters, but rather on the fact they are a same-sex couple, reports local news station and ABC affiliate Channel 9.

It's nothing new for the two dads, Robert Rutledge Williams told the news channel.

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

The bill that passed the Tennessee House of Representatives last week — HB 836 — states that adoption agencies can get away with denying services to prospective adoptive parents if doing their job for certain people might "violate the agency's written religious or moral conditions or policies," Channel 9 reported.

"It's wrong, and it's devastating to think that someone could discriminate against us for loving each other," Scott Williams told the news channel.

Legal expert Daniel Barnes told Channel 9 that the law is "definitely targeted towards gay couples," and added that instead of protecting agencies from "frivolous lawsuits" - - such a law would almost certainly trigger a suit against the state from rights groups like the ACLU, "and I would imagine they would win."

The State of Michigan has already faced just such a suit from the ACLU and, as a result, has agreed no longer to provide taxpayer money to adoption agencies that turn away same-sex parents, Channel 9 noted.

The bill is part of a well-coordinated national strategy by a religiously-motivated group determined to "bring back God to America" through a flurry of anti-LGBTQ legal measures dubbed "Project Blitz," reported The Tennessean.

The Tennessean article also noted that 10,000 bills across America designed to erode the rights of LGBTQ people and their families were part of the overarching effort, which has been ongoing for at least eight years and is being promoted by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation. The Tennessee House bill is only one of a blizzard of such "copycat" laws the group presses for in the name of "religious freedom."

"The project provides a detailed handbook for state and local advocates to advance legislation," The Tennessean reports.

The Tennessean also reported that efforts to curtail the rights of LGBTQ people are not limited to adoption, and involve agencies such as foster care services that are run by states and paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Meantime, loving families that have been gifted with parents deeply committed to their kids continue with their day-to-day lives. Robert Rutledge Williams spoke to this, telling Channel 9, "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."

Watch the Channel 9 story below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.