Per the conditions of a settled lawsuit involving a religious adoption agency in Michigan, faith-oriented agencies benefiting from taxpayer funding will no longer be able to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or cite religious objection in their adoption cases.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel closed the case in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on March 22, working on behalf of a couple that alleged that a religious adoption agency refused to work with them on adopting a child solely due to their sexual orientation. Although the adoption agency cited a 2015 law that permitted faith-based agencies under state contracts to deny foster care or adoption services to LGBTQ+ families on the basis of religious obligation, Nessel argued that this law was in violation of federal anti-discrimination mandates that override state policy, and are therefore inapplicable.
“Discrimination in the provision of foster care case management and adoption services is illegal, no matter the rationale.” said Nessel. “Limiting the opportunity for a child to be adopted or fostered by a loving home not only goes against the state’s goal of finding a home for every child, it is a direct violation of the contract every child-placing agency enters into with the state.”
In 2017, the ACLU sued the state of Michigan on behalf of two lesbian couples who were refused adoption services by St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services on the basis of their sexuality. Under the provisions of the recent decision, the adoption and foster care sector of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is now required to align with federal anti-discrimination policies, and terminate their contracts with adoption agencies that fail to comply. There are approximately 13,000 children in the Michigan state foster care system that will potentially be affected by this mandate.
Bethany Christian Services and St. Vincent Catholic Charities have been responsible for handling about 12 percent of the state’s adoption cases in the past few years, and spokesperson Lori Windham is upset by the ACLU’s settlement, saying that it violates state laws protecting religious institutions.
“The Michigan Attorney General and the ACLU are trying to stop the state from working with faith-based adoption agencies,” said Windham. “The result of that will be tragic. Thousands of children will be kept from finding the loving homes they deserve. This harms children and families waiting for forever homes and limits access for couples who chose to partner with those agencies.”
Legislatures in several states, including Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi and Kansas have passed laws that supposedly permit agency discretion in denying cases that they believe violate religious beliefs. Michigan, however, has now created a precedent against denying LGBTQ+ individuals or same-sex couples seeking to adopt or foster a child.
In reference to the newly dismissed case and to the statements made by Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Charities, the ACLU released a statement saying, “This is a victory for our clients, other same-sex couples in Michigan, and most importantly, the children in Michigan’s child welfare system, who will now have access to loving and qualified families.”