Major national broadcast and cable TV news shows failed to talk about the deliberations over anti-LGBTQ bills in Oklahoma and Kansas that passed through their state legislatures on May 3 and in the early hours of May 4, respectively. The two bills, which would allow adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against prospective LGBTQ parents, will be the latest successes in the right’s strategy to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people; if enacted, they will be the only anti-LGBTQ legislation to succeed thus far during the 2018 state legislative sessions.
The bills in Oklahoma and Kansas, which are awaiting signatures from their respective governors, would allow adoption and foster care agencies to reject prospective parents “who don’t fit their religious beliefs,” such as LGBTQ people, single people, divorcees, interfaith couples, and non-Christians. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has not signaled whether she will sign the legislation into law, but Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer has supported the state’s measure, and his administration testified in favor of the bill. The bills mark the most recent successful push by the Christian far-right to advocate for religious exemptions that make LGBTQ people second-class citizens.
Between March 1 and May 2, the day before the two bills passed (Kansas’ passed in the early hours of May 4), there was no national broadcast or cable TV news coverage of the bills. Media Matters reviewed cable and broadcast news for mentions of the bills and found that not a single network -- including CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News, Fox Broadcasting Co., and NBC News -- covered them at all.
Media Matters also reviewed top national print media outlets -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as the Associated Press and Reuters newswires -- and found eight separate news reports in print and online mentioning one or both of the bills. The Associated Press reported on the two bills in seven different articles, all of which were reprinted in other news outlets. Only The Washington Post produced any other original reporting about the bills, mentioning them in passing in a report about the failure of other state bills to pass this year. Both The Wall Street Journal and USA Today failed to mention the bills in any news reports, and Reuters did not pick up the story either.
Anti-LGBTQ adoption and foster care bills are often characterized as so-called “religious freedom” bills, but they are really ways to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people that limit the pool of homes for children in need of families. Research also shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the U.S. foster care system, and under bills like those passed in Oklahoma and Kansas, LGBTQ children in foster care could end up served by agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ people. These efforts are part of a broader state-level strategy by the Christian far-right and are supported and influenced by anti-LGBTQ hate groups, like Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). In addition to the push for state-level legislation, the religious right’s influence on the Trump administration is apparent in the discriminatory policies and guidance that have been introduced in nearly every federal agency, including in the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Defense, and Education.
The two bills follow several other attempts to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people in adoption and foster care at the state level. Georgia and Colorado introduced similar bills this year that both failed, and last year, anti-LGBTQ adoption and foster care laws were adopted in Alabama, South Dakota, and Texas. A sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions law written by ADF went into effect in Mississippi in 2017; it included provisions allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people. According to The Associated Press, before Oklahoma and Kansas passed their measures, “seven states … passed laws allowing faith-based adoption agencies some degree of protection if they refuse to place children with same-sex couples.” In addition to state-level advocacy, anti-LGBTQ groups have renewed calls for Congress to take up the issue at the national level.
This year has seen what NBC News called a “striking shift from recent years” in that the approximately 120 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed in states all failed to pass their legislatures until the Kansas and Oklahoma measures. But that means the bills have major national significance, so national media should have been paying attention prior to their passage. April reports on other anti-LGBTQ bills failing across the country acknowledged that these two bills were major focuses of LGBTQ advocates.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of broadcast TV newscasts on ABC News, CBS News, Fox Broadcasting Co., and NBC News appearing between March 1 and May 2, which was the day before the bills passed (Kansas’ bill passed in the early hours of May 4), for mentions of the words or variations of the words “adoption,” “foster care,” “child welfare,” “SB 1140,” “religion,” “faith-based,” “Adoption Protection Act” occurring within 30 words of the terms or variations of the terms “Oklahoma,” “Kansas,” “same-sex,” “LGBT,” “gay,” “discriminate,” or “non-christian.” We also searched SnapStream for the same words and variations of words appearing on cable TV networks CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC between March 1 and May 2.
Media Matters also searched Nexis for mentions of the same words or variations of words appearing in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press, and Reuters between March 1 and May 2. Additionally, we searched Factiva for mentions of the same words or variations of words appearing in The Wall Street Journal between March 1 and May 2. Media Matters also performed site searches for The New York Times, Los Angeles, The Washington Post, and USA Today for reprints of Associate Press coverage of the bills between March 1 and May 2. Media Matters did not include op-eds, columns, or editorials in this analysis.
Additional research by Rebecca Damante and Brennan Suen.
Charts and graphics by Sarah Wasko.