A settlement reached last week between Michigan’s Democratic attorney general and two lesbian couples represented by the American Civil Liberties Union threatens the religious liberty of the state’s child-placing agencies. The settlement ends a 2017 lawsuit against the state by four women who said faith-based child-placing agencies declined to work with them because of their views about marriage and sexuality. One of the agencies, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, has a long history serving families and children in Lansing, Mich., focusing on hard-to-place children.
The previous administration of Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, defended the state’s practice of working with faith-based groups such as St. Vincent and Bethany Christian Services, which together handle about 12 percent of all adoptions from foster care in the state. In 2015, Snyder signed a law preventing any state or local agency from taking adverse action against faith-based child-placing organizations that had religious standards for selecting families. LGBT advocate Dana Nessel fought against passage of the legislation at the time and was elected as the state’s attorney general in 2018.
The settlement does not set a legal precedent but will likely fuel efforts by LGBT advocates to challenge similar laws in other states. In 2011, Illinois required private agencies to place adoptive children with unmarried, cohabiting couples. As a result, numerous faith-based organizations were forced to stop serving more than 2,000 children. Both Massachusetts and the District of Columbia have done the same. Other states, including Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia, have given faith-based agencies exemptions from working with same-sex couples or LBGTQ individuals who want to adopt or foster a child.
Lori Windham, senior counsel for Becket, which represented St. Vincent, told me the law firm specializing in religious liberty cases “is still evaluating how the state and the ACLU’s settlement language might affect St. Vincent’s rights and those of the families and children it serves.”
While some faith-based agencies have closed rather than be forced to accept families whose views on marriage and sexuality conflict with their religious beliefs, others have acquiesced to the demands of the LGBT lobby. In Philadelphia, Bethany Christian Services agreed to place foster children with same-sex couples rather than end its contract with the city’s Department of Human Services. Bethany spokeswoman Morgan Greenberg did not immediately return a request for comment on the agency’s practices in Michigan, but in July 2018, she told WORLD Digital the organization would comply with local laws on child placing across the country. —Steve West