GOP tax plan, ACLU lawsuit threaten U.S. adoptions

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WASHINGTON (BP) -- Adoption in America is facing challenges from both the right and the left.

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Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled a tax reform proposal Thursday (Nov. 2) that wipes out the adoption tax credit, a benefit available to some adoptive parents the last two decades.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has challenged a Michigan law that allows faith-based adoption agencies to abide by their religious convictions by refusing to place children with same-sex couples.

In both cases, adoption advocates fear fewer adoptions and more children without permanent parents will be the result.

The adoption tax credit -- which can be for international/domestic agency, domestic private and public foster care adoptions -- is credited with helping, and even enabling, many families to adopt. The credit, instituted in 1997, is $13,570 this year for a process that can be extremely expensive.

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore told Baptist Press the credit "is not just one more policy issue. It is in the national interest of any country to see that vulnerable children are in families, not exiled in a system. My prayer is that Congress will move to keep this important provision, not torpedo it."

The ACLU brought suit in September in federal court contending state agencies in Michigan violate the U.S. Constitution by their implementation of a 2015 state law. The complaint on behalf of a lesbian couple says the state infringes the First Amendment's ban on government establishment of religion and the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause by permitting private organizations it has contracts with to reject same-sex couples as adoptive parents based on the agencies' religious beliefs.

"Adoption agencies play a crucial role in protecting our society's most vulnerable human beings," said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "Many of those agencies are operated by people of genuine religious conviction. Penalizing such conviction isn't just an assault on conscience but is also a disregard for the thousands of orphaned children who find refuge through these adoption agencies.

"Let's hope Michigan's common-sense law would be upheld and that the ACLU's callous attempt to politicize orphan care would fail," Moore said in written comments for BP.

John Mark Yeats, dean of Midwestern College, the undergraduate arm of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., took to Twitter to underscore the importance of the adoption tax credit.

"This credit mattered in ALL FOUR of our adoptions!" Yeats tweeted.

A Southern Baptist congressman -- Republican Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina -- disagreed with his party's elimination of the adoption tax credit.

Walker said via Twitter the GOP's tax proposal "is strong but needs to include adoption tax credit. Providing a home for a child that is unwanted or special needs is pro-life!"

The House Ways and Means Committee revealed details of the tax reform plan, with its chairman, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, explaining why he supported removing the tax credit even though he has two adopted children.

"This credit is not working," Brady told The Washington Post, citing the fact that the credit's non-refundable status prevents some families from claiming it because they fail to pay enough in taxes.

The GOP proposal's reduction in tax rates will provide families with "more in their paychecks, especially the middle-class families that are crucial for adoption," Brady said. "I think this is a better approach for the vast majority of Americans who are left behind."

In a blog post today (Nov. 3), the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) offered a different picture of the Republicans' plan.

Eliminating the adoption tax credit "would have very serious consequences for America's children, and will have a significant impact on the future of thousands of adoptions," according to NCFA. "In 2014 alone, nearly 70,000 children were adopted by non-relatives. For many of those families, the adoption tax credit makes all the difference."

NCFA President Chuck Johnson, an adoptive father, told BP elimination of the adoption tax credit is likely to have "the most adverse impact" in the area of foster care.

"Most of the 50,000 children being adopted annually from foster care are being adopted by their foster families," Johnson said in written comments for BP. "In adopting these children, the families are giving up all financial support from the state, but do so to provide the child(ren) permanency.

"A one-time credit of $13,000 compared with the high cost of keeping children in foster care is a fiscally responsible decision," he said. "It's also the morally right thing to do. Very rare when you can accomplish the morally right thing and the fiscally best thing in public policy, but the [adoption tax credit] accomplishes just that."

Households that make more than about $243,000 are ineligible for the adoption tax credit.

The GOP plan also removes a tax break for employers who offer assistance to workers who adopt, according to The Chronicle for Social Change.

Meanwhile, adoption advocates are concerned a win by the ACLU in its suit against Michigan government agencies could result in the elimination of adoption work by religious organizations that oppose placing children with same-sex couples. That already has happened in Illinois, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, according to the Heritage Foundation.

"Same-sex couples in Michigan seeking to adopt are free to do so with dozens of agencies across the state," Emilie Kao and Zachary Jones of the Heritage Foundation said in an Oct. 31 piece for The Daily Signal, a Heritage publication. "Contrary to the ACLU's claims, there is no constitutional or practical reason why a faith-based agency must be forced to violate its religious beliefs when there are an ample number of alternatives across the state."

November is National Adoption Awareness Month.

Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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