Kentucky Politics

Kentucky Republicans are calling on Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to renew a contract with a Baptist foster care and adoption organization that views homosexuality as sinful.

Sunrise Children’s Services, which has worked with the state since the 1970s, refused to sign a new contract earlier this year because of a clause that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Kentucky’s five Republican constitutional officers sent a letter urging Beshear’s health cabinet to reinstate the contract without such a clause, arguing that the state was coercing the organization to violate its religious beliefs.

In a statement, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron wrote that Beshear is forcing Sunrise to choose between providing services and abandoning religious beliefs.

“This is not good government, and it does not respect the First Amendment rights of a religious organization. Previous administrations, Republican and Democrat, have found ways to partner with Sunrise, and I hope Governor Beshear will do the same,” Cameron wrote.

The fight over the contract language was first reported by the Courier Journal earlier this month.

The Kentucky Baptist Convention views homosexuality as sinful, doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, and is against ordaining gay ministers.

Sunrise Children’s Services has been locked in a 21-year-old federal lawsuit over claims that it indoctrinates children in its care, allegedly violating the separation of church and state because the organization receives public funds.

Last week, Beshear said the nondiscrimination clause was included in Sunrise’s new contract as part of a settlement over the lawsuit and in recognition of a recent Supreme Court decision that affirmed LGBTQ protections.

“My understanding is that Sunrise has been offered a contract, but unless a portion of a standard nondiscrimination clause is crossed through, which is my understanding of what they’re asking for, that they won’t sign the contract,” Beshear said. “I hope they’ll continue dialogue.”

The lawsuit against Sunrise is still pending in federal court. Todd Gray, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said on Wednesday the organization had not agreed to settle the case.

During this year’s legislative session, Republicans included language in the budget bill that tries to keep the Beshear administration from enforcing nondiscrimination clauses in child services contracts.

Beshear vetoed the language, but legislators easily overrode him.

Last week, 71 Republican House members sent Beshear a letter urging him to “provide an accommodation that would allow for the exercise of Sunrise’s religious rights.”

Rep. David Meade, a Republican from Stanford and House speaker pro tem, said Beshear is disrupting the state’s foster care and adoption system.

“Sunrise is a proven partner in caring for the children of Kentucky and has been for more than four decades,” Meade wrote in a statement. “We are simply asking that the state continue in this partnership and not risk the care provided to hundreds of Kentucky children. Now is not the time for the administration to make this about politics.”

Gray, with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said in an interview that “there should be room for a Christian agency that just operates by Christian convictions.”

Gray said Sunrise Children’s Services doesn’t directly provide adoption and foster care services to LGBTQ families, but tries to connect them with other agencies.

“Sunrise isn’t saying these families shouldn’t foster. They’re not saying that. They’re saying they’re not going to be the best agency to work with them,” Gray said, adding that he believes the state is discriminating against a Christian organization.

“Their positions and policies come out of their biblical convictions. The reason they should be included is because they have First Amendment rights as an organization.”

Gray said he believes Attorney General Cameron might sue the governor over the proposed contract, but he hopes to continue discussing the issue with the administration.

Chris Hartman, executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Campaign, praised Beshear for including the anti-discrimination clause.

“This is exactly what we would hope to see out of an administration that is compassionate and inclusive of all Kentuckians. We don’t want taxpayer dollars going to institutions that are going to discriminate against anyone,” Hartman said.

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.