Statement on Religious Liberty and LGBTQ+ Adoption, (27 February 2020) Washington, D.C.


Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (1966–) began his political career working on Bill Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns. In Clinton’s second term, Maloney served as a senior West Wing adviser—known as the “highest ranking openly homosexual man on the White House staff.”1 After the Clinton administration, he worked in the corporate and legal worlds, returning to politics briefly for a failed campaign for Attorney General of New York in 2006. In 2012, Maloney ran for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat in New York’s 18th congressional district. Running against Representative Nan Hayworth (R-NY), Maloney campaigned on supporting marriage equality and Planned Parenthood funding, and on opposing the federal budget proposed by Republicans.2 The New York Times endorsed him for his “promises to support health care reform, help the middle class and oppose tax cuts for the rich.”3 Maloney’s election made him New York’s first openly gay member of Congress.

But when Maloney and his now-husband, Randy Florke, first met outside a nightclub in 1992, Rep. Maloney was not yet “openly” gay. That fateful night began with a nervous Maloney introducing himself, and ended—after hours of dancing—with Florke tucking a napkin with his phone number into Maloney’s wallet.4 Their flirtatious and sometimes rocky relationship solidified into a partnership when they had the opportunity to care for and adopt children. Florke’s colleague had a grandson, a 3-year-old boy named Jesus, whose parents could no longer care for him. The two started to take care of him on weekends. They adopted him before Maloney had even come out to his parents. By 2003, Maloney and Florke had adopted two more children—two girls, Daley and Essie.5

Inclusive strides were being made in LGBTQ+ policy in the United States when Rep. Maloney began his first term in Congress as an openly gay father of three. Public opinion researchers revealed that from 1994 to 2012, public support for same-gender adoption had increased from 28 percent to 52 percent.6 In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, and declared it unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor.7 And in 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges, same-sex marriage became a fundamental right of LGBTQ people in the United States.8

In 2016, events indicating the harsh realities of enduring homophobia interrupted this narrative of progress. In June, 49 people were killed at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. In November, Donald Trump (R-FL) was elected president. Despite pledging to “protect our LGBT [sic] citizens” after the attack, in his first month in office, the Trump administration stripped down every reference to the LGBTQ community on White House and State Department websites.9 The Trump administration’s symbolic destruction of LGBTQ webpages contributed to active hostility toward LGBTQ progress. The administration moved swiftly to remove data about LGBTQ people from the 2020 census and rescinded federal guidance that protected transgender students.10 Early in Trump’s administration, reports also circulated that he was considering a religious freedom executive order that could act, GLAAD argues, as a “broader permission slip for discrimination against the overall LGBTQ community.”11 In May, he signed the order.12

Same-gender adoptions were one key area where the Trump administration focused its anti-LGBTQ policy under the guise of religious liberty. In early 2019, the administration issued a waiver to South Carolina that allowed the state to license faith-based, exclusionary child-placement agencies, despite federal regulations that prohibited the licensing and funding of those agencies. Republican South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster championed the waiver as securing “our fundamental right to practice religion.”13 Rep. Maloney worked with two other LGBTQ representatives to craft a letter condemning this decision that was signed by 95 other Democrats.14 At the end of 2019, the waiver for South Carolina became a proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would “allow foster care and adoption agencies to deny their services to L.G.B.T. families on faith-based grounds” in any U.S. state.15

It is in this context that the House Committee of Oversight and Reform held a hearing entitled, “The Administration’s Religious Liberty Assault on LGBTQ rights” in February 2020, three months after the proposed HHS rule. The chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), opened the hearing expressing that she is “a strong supporter of religious liberty.” Yet, she added that such liberties “should not be distorted and twisted into a weapon to enable discrimination.”16 Rep. Maloney was the first witness. In his address, he explained the story of how he came to be a father of three. He shared that adoption agencies in the 1990s had learned to reach out to LGBTQ couples because they “were willing to cross lines of difference.” “They had,” after all, been reaching across such differences “in their own lives.”17 Maloney focused his testimony on how discrimination in the name of religious liberty would keep children in need out of loving homes. In the conclusion of his testimony, he condemned the use of religious liberty to frame the issue. Maloney firmly stated that this is not a “disagreement between people of faith and people without faith. It is an act of faith to care and love for a child, and so it is because of our faith, not in spite of it, that we oppose these discriminatory measures.”18

In November 2020, Rep. Maloney was re-elected and President Trump lost to now-President Joe Biden (D-DE). Twelve days before leaving office, the Trump administration finalized the rule that sparked the congressional hearing, officially “nix[ing] regulations barring federal grantees in the Department of Health and Human Services from discriminating against LGBTQ people, including in adoption services.”19 The day after the inauguration, the Biden administration reversed this rule.20

Despite this, the struggle for LGBTQ adoption rights in the United States is far from complete. In June 2021, the Supreme Court decided Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, ruling that the City of Philadelphia could not deny a contract to Catholic Social Services, despite the organization’s practice of screening out married same-sex couples.21 In response to this decision, Maloney re-shared a video of his speech on his Facebook page. In the caption, he paraphrased his words from just 15 months before: “When you allow discrimination against LGBTQ couples and call it religious liberty, you deprive kids like mine of families who will love them . . . At the end of the day — that’s all that matters.”22



  1. Linda Rapp, “Maloney, Sean Patrick,” in glbtq Encyclopedia, 2013,; Liz Benjamin, “Maloney Highlights Clinton Connection In 1st NY-18 Mailer,” State of Politics – Time Warner Cable News , May 24, 2012,
  2. Chris McKenna, “Final Stretch for Hayworth, Maloney,” Times Herald-Record, November 2, 2012,
  3. The New York Times Editorial Board, “For Congress From New York and Connecticut,” New York Times, October 22, 2012,
  4. Michael M. Grynbaum, “A Relationship Where Marriage Is Freedom,” New York Times, July 3, 2014,
  5. Penelope Green, “Habitats/East 28th Street; Of 11 Homes, 4 Businesses and 3 Adopted Children,” New York Times, January 18, 2004,
  6. Darrel M. Montero, “America’s Progress in Achieving the Legalization of Same-Gender Adoption: Analysis of Public Opinion, 1994 to 2012,” Social Work 59, no. 4 (2014): 321–328,
  7. United States v. Windsor 570 U.S. 744 (2013).
  8. Obergefell v. Hodges 576 U.S. 644 (2015).
  9. Mary Emily O’Hara, “Trump Administration Removes LGBTQ Content from Federal Websites,” NBC News, January 24, 2017,; Philip Bump and Aaron Blake, “Donald Trump’s Dark Speech to the Republican National Convention, Annotated,” Washington Post, July 21, 2016,; Eugene Scott, “Trump’s Response to the Pulse Shooting in 2016 Gave False Hope about His LGBT Agenda,” Washington Post, June 12, 2019,
  10. Glenn Garner, “Trump Administration Omits LGBTQ People from 2020 Census,” Out Magazine, March 28, 2017,; Ariane de Vogue, Mary Kay Mallonee, and Emanuella Grinberg, “Trump Administration Withdraws Federal Protections for Transgender Students,” CNN, February 23, 2017,
  11. “The Trump Accountability Project,” GLAAD, January 8, 2021,; Rick Klein, “Proposed Trump Executive Order Could Curtail LGBT Rights,” ABC News, February 1, 2017,
  12. Ali Vitali, “Trump’s Executive Order Allows Religious Organizations Greater Freedom in Political Speech,” NBC News, May 4, 2017,
  13. Tom Barton, “Foster-Care Ruling: Victory for Religious Freedom or Bias?,” The State, January 23, 2019,
  14. Chris Johnson, “LGB Parents in Congress Denounce Trump Anti-LGBT Adoption Waiver,” Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights , February 13, 2019,
  15. Derrick Bryson Taylor, “Adoption Groups Could Turn Away L.G.B.T. Families Under Proposed Rule,” New York Times, November 2, 2019,
  16. “The Administration’s Religious Liberty Assault on LGBTQ Rights,” Pub. L. No. 116–93, § House Committee on Oversight and Reform (2020), 2,
  17. Maloney, “Statement of Sean Patrick Maloney,” para. 11.
  18. Ibid., paras., 29-30.
  19. Chris Johnson, “Amid Coup Chaos, Trump Quietly Erases LGBTQ Protections in Adoption, Health Services,” Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights , January 8, 2021,
  20. Jo Yurcaba, “Biden Issues Executive Order Expanding LGBTQ Nondiscrimination Protections,” NBC News, January 21, 2021,
  21. Nina Totenberg, “Supreme Court Rules Catholic Group Doesn’t Have To Consider LGBTQ Foster Parents,” NPR, June 17, 2021,
  22. Sean Patrick Maloney, “The Disappointing Ruling from SCOTUS in Fulton v. Philadelphia,” Video, Facebook, June 17, 2021,