ACLU plans suit over religious liberty protections for Michigan adoption agencies
by Laura Edghill
Posted 6/16/15, 03:25 pm
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law late last week three bills that provide protections for faith-based adoption agencies that don’t want to place children with same-sex couples.
Adoption agencies routinely use discretion when placing children, including evaluating the prospective parents’ marital status, mental and physical health, the presence of additional children in the home, and any history of misdemeanor or felony convictions.
Michigan’s new legislation simply protects the discretion that faith-based agencies already have to selectively place children in the homes of heterosexual, married couples. If an applicant does not meet an agency’s critera for any reason, the agency is required to refer them to another “willing and able” adoption service provider.
But critics were quick to cry foul, claiming the law discriminates against gay couples.
“There is nothing about this shameful legislation that helps vulnerable kids find homes,” said Michigan ACLU Deputy Director Rana Elmir, who warned same-sex couples, religious minorities, single parents, and others could be affected.
Snyder denied discrimination claims.
“This isn’t about that,” he said. “Our goal is to get the maximum number of kids adopted by loving families regardless of the loving family’s background, whether they’re straight or gay.”
Faith-based agencies currently facilitate about half of all adoptions in the state. They represent roughly one-quarter of the more than 60 private agencies that receive nearly $20 million in state funding annually to provide adoption services. With thousands of vulnerable children currently waiting for homes, advocates say the work of faith-based agencies is both vital and necessary. The law protects their ability to continue placing children in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs and decline referrals that conflict with those beliefs, without fear of reprisal.
But the law runs the risk of painting a target on these agencies as well. What’s been a long-standing, undisputed practice is now exposed to unrelenting public scrutiny, possibly paving the way for Michigan to follow California, Illinois, and Massachusetts. Those states, along with the District of Columbia, were forced to sever state contracts with faith-based adoption groups in recent years due to conflicts with state anti-discrimination laws. Without state funding, most of the affected agencies stopped providing adoption services, leaving tens of thousands of children stranded.
Michigan State Rep. Andrea LaFontaine, one of the bill’s sponsors, said when agencies are forced to close rather than violate their religious beliefs, “it results in a lack of services, longer wait times, and fewer child placements.”
Snyder said the bill will help get the largest number of kids in forever families: “The more opportunities and organizations we have that are doing a good job of placing people in loving families, isn’t that better for all of us?”
The ACLU plans to challenge the new law in court.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Laura Edghill is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.