Gay rights groups and child welfare advocates raised alarm Monday over what they see as legislative attempts in nearly two dozen US states to roll back recent anti-discrimination gains.
The advocacy groups are particularly concerned over a new law in South Dakota which allows adoption agencies to cite religious beliefs to potentially avoid working with gay parents.
The South Dakota law "is really just the beginning, and is part of a large wave" of similar efforts, said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
There are more than 100 similar bills in 23 states, according to HRC and the American Civil Liberties Union, including Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee.
The bills aim to loosen restrictions on discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people through religious exemptions, the groups said.
"We're seeing different tactics and strategies being used to undermine the rights of LGBT people," said Eunice Cho of the ACLU.
'MOST EGREGRIOUS OFFENDER'
Texas was "the most egregious offender," she said, with more than a dozen bills that would, among other things, change foster care rules, grant wedding vendors the right to refuse service, and allow county clerks to abstain from performing gay marriages.
"We are deeply concerned that these bills will continue to gain momentum, and will begin passing all over this country," Warbelow said.
The South Dakota law grants child placement agencies the right to act on "any sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction," and would allow them to avoid offering services that conflict with those beliefs.
Advocates said gay parents in the state who are currently fostering children face the prospect of being blocked from adopting them.
"That would be particularly devastating," as fostering is a common path to adoption for many children, said Christine James-Brown, CEO of the Child Welfare League of America.
A spokesperson for South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, who signed the bill into law on Friday, did not return AFP's request for comment. The state legislators who sponsored the bill, Alan Solano and Steven Haugaard, did not immediately return a request for comment.