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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a controversial measure Friday that would let religious adoption agencies deny service to same-sex couples.
The move comes after several groups, including the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, urged Lee not to sign the legislation.
The law allows adoption agencies to refuse to participate in child placement if doing so would "violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies."
Under the law, which immediately takes effect, the state would be barred from denying an agency's license or grant application for public funds because of a refusal to place a child with a family based on religious objections.
“The governor believes that protection of rights is important, especially religious liberty," Lee spokesman Gillum Ferguson said. "This bill is centered around protecting the religious liberty of Tennesseans and that’s why he signed it.”
Bill Lee has finished his first year in office as the 50th Governor of Tennessee.
Advocacy groups, including the Campaign for Southern Equality and the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation targeted members of the LGBTQ community.
But proponents of the legislation, which included religious conservatives, said it was a necessary protection for faith-based groups.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a recent column published in The Tennessean the legislation puts children first and argued that it does not promote discrimination.
He said the law doesn't prevent other organizations from helping children.
"This law prevents the state from discriminating against faith-based organizations as they serve and meet the needs of children. It does not restrict others at all," he wrote.
The governor's signature comes a little over a week after the state Senate approved the measure with a 20-6 vote, despite objections from several Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Randy McNally.
Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU-TN, said the organization is considering its options.
The Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, was more direct, saying, "This law is clearly discriminatory. As long as the LGBTQ community continues to be targeted by discriminatory laws, we will turn to the courts for recourse."
Beach-Ferrara said other states, including Michigan, implemented similar laws and had them halted in court.
"We anticipate that litigation around discrimination focused on adoption will continue to unfold, and the Tennessee law signed today will be part of that conversation,” she said.
Follow Joel Ebert on Twitter: @joelebert29.