Republicans are sparring with Gov. Andy Beshear over a contract dispute between his administration and a Kentucky Baptist Convention affiliated adoption agency over a clause intended to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ people.
The five Republican constitutional officers — Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Treasurer Allison Ball, Auditor Mike Harmon and Secretary of State Micheal Adams — signed a letter Monday urging the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to reinstate its contract with Sunrise Children’s Services, a large foster care and adoption agency.
Their statement, which argues that Beshear has a legal obligation to continue the contract, follows a similar letter put out by the majority of the Kentucky House Republican Caucus on Wednesday that also urged Beshear and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to waive a provision that prevents discrimination over sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Sunrise is a proven partner in caring for the children of Kentucky and has been for more than four decades,” Speaker Pro Tem David Meade said, “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.”
Neither letter specifically mentions the heart of the dispute between Sunrise and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
The Courier Journal first reported that the dispute is over a single sentence in the contract but neither the Beshear administration nor the Kentucky Baptist Convention has detailed the exact language at issue.
The Beshear administration, Sunrise Family Services and the Kentucky Baptist Convention all did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last Monday, Beshear confirmed the issue was over a clause that aims to prevent discrimination over sexual orientation and gender identity, without ever directly using those words.
“My understanding is that is the clause,” Beshear said, when asked directly whether the clause is in regards to sexual orientation. “My understanding is that there has recently been a settlement agreement that impacts this from litigation against the state, possibly because of those waivers. My understanding is that there’s a new supreme court case, at least since the last time a contract came along.”
Beshear was likely referring to the U.S. Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County, where in 2020 the court ruled that it is illegal for businesses to fire employees because they are gay or transgender.
And while it is unclear which settlement agreement Beshear was referring to, there has been a longstanding lawsuit against the state and the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, filed by the ACLU on behalf of Alicia Pedreira, who said she was fired by the organization after it learned she is a lesbian.
The dispute sparks a familiar flash-point in Kentucky politics over what, if any, anti-discrimination protections should be afforded LGBTQ Kentuckians.
Recent “fairness bills” — intended to prevent discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation — have failed to get a hearing in either chamber of the General Assembly.
In the 2021 legislative session, Republicans tucked a provision into the Executive Branch budget bill that attempted to prevent the Beshear administration from enforcing non-discrimination clauses that went against a children’s services contractors’ sincerely held religious beliefs.
Beshear vetoed the bill, saying it would allow discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, but his veto was easily overridden.
In their letter, Republican constitutional officers argued that Sunrise had first amendment protections because the state could not “discriminate against religious conduct.”
“They truly have done the Lord’s calling to ‘do unto the least of these,’ ” Secretary of State Micheal Adams wrote. “I respectfully ask the Beshear administration to stand up for Kentucky children rather than kowtowing to political correctness.”
Chris Hartman, the executive director of the Fairness Campaign, said ending the contract with Sunrise will not overburden the state’s foster care and adoptive services, where there are around 9,100 children and that it was about protecting LGBTQ Kentuckians.
“This is not only about respecting LGBTQ families and parents, but about protecting kids,” Hartman said. “I would say it’s a dangerous environment for LGBTQ kids to be in Sunrise’s care right now.”