New Michigan Law Allows Religious Adoption Agencies To Discriminate Against Gay Couples

A new Michigan law allows religious-affiliated adoption agencies to turn away parents for religious reasons, and it seems fairly obvious what the target is in this case.

Rainbow Flag Family

Last week, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a bill that had easily passed the states Republican-controlled legislature that allows adoption agencies that work with the state to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples based on religious grounds:

Gov. Rick Snyder signed a package of three bills into law Thursday that would allow publicly-funded adoption agencies to turn away parents on religious grounds.

Critics uniformly contend the measures are tailored to let agencies refuse adoption to LGBT couples. Republican proponents have argued they were protecting people of faith and resisting an attack from LGBT advocates.

Snyder, a Republican, had hedged on the bills for months, saying he had concerns with them and wanted to be certain there were enough options for kids needing adoption. In the end, he issued a statement that said the laws were “putting Michigan children first in adoption, foster care practices.”

“The state has made significant progress in finding more forever homes for Michigan kids in recent years and that wouldn’t be possible without the public-private partnerships that facilitate the adoption process,” Snyder said. “We are focused on ensuring that as many children are adopted to as many loving families as possible regardless of their makeup.”

The governors office added the rules would “prevent faith-based agencies from having policies forced on them that violate their religious beliefs, which have resulted in agencies closing in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and Washington, D.C.”

After being brought to an unexpected vote Wednesday without appearing on the Senate’s daily agenda, Senators approved House Bills 4188-1490 along largely partisan lines by 26-to-12 votes. The bills all passed the House in March.

Numerous LGBT advocacy groups had exerted pressure on Snyder to veto the bills — to no avail — and quickly chided Snyder for signing the bills.

One of those groups, Progress Michigan, denounced the governor for signing the bills for signing the bills. “Children deserve loving homes and our elected officials should be held accountable for supporting this blatant act of discrimination,” said a statement from Lonnie Scott, executive director of the group. “We hope that Gov. Snyder is prepared for the same amount of backlash that was seen in Indiana when they passed similar RFRA-style legislation and we encourage the people to raise up their voices in protest.”

The Child Welfare League of America asked Snyder to veto the bills in a letter sent Wednesday, saying they “would make it more difficult for children to find families.”

(…)

According to House Bill 4188, “A child placing agency shall not be required to provide any services if those services conflict with, or provide any services under circumstances that conflict with, the child placing agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs contained in a written policy, statement of faith, or other document adhered to by the child placing agency.”

It would also bar the state from retaliating against any agency that refuses adoption on religious grounds.

An adoption agency that refuses a parent on religious grounds would be obligated to refer them to another agency or a state website that lists all the licensed adoption agencies in Michigan, of which there are 105, according to the legislation.

Democratic Sen. Bert Johnson, at an April committee meetings, said there there are an estimated 3,000 children in Michigan awaiting adoption.

The Williams Institute at UCLA issued an analysis that estimated 3,460 adopted children under age 18 in the state are being raised by lesbian, gay, or bisexual parents individuals and same-sex couples. If the bills had been passed before those children were in adoptive homes, the group found, “these families could have been turned away by some agencies, and some of these children would have remained in foster care for a longer period of time awaiting adoption.”

This law is just one example of a point The New York Times makes in an article today when it notes that, even if the Supreme Court does legalize same-sex marriage nationwide there will still be a number of issues that will be unresolved regarding same-sex couples and their families. In this case, it’s the issue of adoption by gays and lesbians in general and couples in particular. In theory at least, once the law nationwide says that same-sex unions must be given the same legal recognition as other valid marriages then gay and lesbian couples should have no problem protecting their rights when it comes to children. What this Michigan law shows, though, is that there are a variety of ways that adoption law in particular can be modified that would make that more difficult.

According to some estimates, this legislation would effect roughly one-quarter of the adoptions that take place in Michigan on an annual basis and, while this is not the majority of such cases it’s certainly a significant enough amount to raise questions about what the legislature is doing here. This isn’t a new issue, of course. As states have revamped their adoption laws to remove past regulations and practices that discriminated against gay and lesbian couples and adults in the adoption process, private adoption agencies affiliated with religious institutions have argued that regulations that require them to treat gay and lesbian prospective parents the same way they treat hetreosexual prospective parents would violate their religious liberty. One of the loudest voices in this regard has been Catholic Charities and the other adoption-related services run by the Catholic Church, which has actually shut down in several states due to changes in the law that required it to open its adoptions to gays and lesbians

I understand the arguments that the Church and other religious organizations that work in the adoption field are making here, and as a general rule it is better to have more such agencies involved in placing children than fewer. At the same time, though, it seems fairly certain to me that their arguments are way off the mark and that they are forgetting what the primary purpose of adoption law is supposed to be. In the end, the goal of adoption is to place a child with the best family possible. The only relevant criteria should be, and at least according to the law is, what is in the best interest of the child. Because of that, it shouldn’t necessarily matter what the race, religion, or sexual orientation of the prospective parent(s) happens to be. Additionally, while previous conceptions used to be that gay and lesbian couples were not suitable couples for adoption, the available evidence makes clear that gay parents are as good as straight parents, all things being equal. If any entity is going to operate an adoption agency with the blessing of the state, which is realistically the only way it can be done in the modern world, then there’s an argument that the only criteria they should be considering in placing children are the best interests of the child regardless of any religious concerns.

That’s what makes this Michigan law so troublesome. It allows an adoption agency to essentially put the best interests of a child to the side in favor of the religious beliefs of the institution. While that’s not to suggest that children will end up getting placed with parents who will endanger them, it does mean that they would be deprived of growing up in a loving environment merely because their prospective parents are gay. For some children, that may mean additional years in the limbo of foster care, which seems a rather cruel fate just so a bunch of adults can prove some abstract political point.’

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Religion, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. DrDaveT says:

    The only good news here is that the torrent of nouveau-discriminatory laws like this will force the Court to quickly establish sexual orientation as a protected class in order to put an end to the nonsense.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    So, Michigan has to decided to go “Kansas” or “North Carolina” too?

  3. Moosebreath says:

    Hmm — wasn”t there an argument a few months ago that the gay rights battle was over, and fighting over anything now was just rubbing peoples’ noses in it? I guess the Michigan Legislature didn’t get the message.

  4. Hal_10000 says:

    If these agencies were running on their own dime, I would be fine with them making their own rules. But my understanding is that they are taking public funds. If you take the king’s coin, you play by the king’s rules. If these agencies are getting public funds to arrange adoptions, they have to play by the rules by the public lays down. That’s how it works. When I get a research grant, I have to agree not to discriminate in my hiring practices, even if I am at a religious institution.

    I understand that you want to have as many agencies working on this as possible … and it’s horrible that they are pulling back from states that don’t allow discrimination. I’m also not insensitive to the idea that we live in a large pluralistic country and our implementation of anti-discrimination law must-needs be imperfect. But I don’t think the state should bend here. It’s the camel’s nose in the tent. Name and shame the organizations that have placed their principles — principles that are increasingly unpopular among their own flock — above the welfare of children.

  5. Tony W says:

    The funny thing is that there are still people out there challenging the argument that religion is evil.

    They must have their own facts.

  6. Gustopher says:

    More special rights for the religious.

    Why can’t I discriminate against people based on my firmly-held, not not religious, beliefs?

  7. Franklin says:

    @al-Ameda: Yup, but one can’t be too surprised. Michigan (I am embarrassed to admit) has gay marriage banned in its constitution!

  8. Gavrilo says:

    @Hal_10000:

    If you take the king’s coin, you play by the king’s rules. If these agencies are getting public funds to arrange adoptions, they have to play by the rules by the public lays down. That’s how it works.

    Um. This is a law passed by the Michigan legislature and signed by the Governor. This is the “rule that the public has layed down.”

  9. DrDaveT says:

    @Gustopher:

    Why can’t I discriminate against people based on my firmly-held, not religious, beliefs?

    As I understand it, the prevailing argument goes something like this:

    Because God.

  10. Walter Olson says:

    As an ardent proponent of adoption by gay persons, I’m fine with this Michigan law, and I think you’re on the wrong track when you criticize it. More kids will get placed when there are a diversity of different agencies trying to arrange placements, including conservative religious agencies. We’re not facing a situation where gays seeking to adopt in Michigan are somehow unable to find a private agency to assist with social service placements. There are plenty of such agencies. On the other hand, if you kick out the conservative religious agencies as some states have done, you lose plenty of experienced placement workers, families, and other contacts, and more kids will wait or age out. You also harm birthmother and birthfamily preferences, which are better served when there are a variety of agency options.

  11. stonetools says:

    So I guess we can forget about conservatives giving up the anti-gay fight after SCOTUS rules this month. They’re going to continue to milk that anti-gay hatred for as long as they can, just because it’s a reliable way to get the rubes to the polls so they can vote in the plutocrat-loving sociopaths that big business pays to run as Republican candidates.
    Well, why not? Might as well continue the scheme that brought them a Republican legislative majority in Michigan and in Congress. I only wish liberals could figure out how to counter the scheme.

  12. rodney dill says:

    One would think that if a Catholic sponsored adoption agency, for example, was employing this kind of thinking that they wouldn’t want to allow adoptions to atheist, agnostic, Islamic, Jewish, or Mormon couples either, whether straight or gay. Possibly not even to protestants.

    If they only ban gay couples they aren’t really consistently using their religious beliefs as the grounds.

  13. Davebo says:

    One of the loudest voices in this regard has been Catholic Charities and the other adoption-related services run by the Catholic Church

    In 2010 Catholic Charities received $554 million in federal funding.

    In 2011 Catholic Relief Service received $57.89 million in USDA food assistance.

    It’s time to send them a signal I think.

  14. grumpy realist says:

    I bet what will happen is that one of the Catholic sponsored adoption agencies will loudly refuse to allow gay parents to adopt, but willingly let the kid go to some brain-dead fundamentalist. When said kid ends up dead through either being beaten to death (“Spare the rod and spoil the child” will be the fundy’s defense) or by withholding medicine (“pray it away!”) the uproar STILL won’t be enough to knock down this law.

  15. Rafer Janders says:

    @Walter Olson:

    On the other hand, if you kick out the conservative religious agencies as some states have done, you lose plenty of experienced placement workers, families, and other contacts, and more kids will wait or age out

    Not one state has “kicked out” conservative religious agencies. Rather, those agencies have decided that it’s more important to them to discriminate against gay people than to find a loving home for orphan children.

    And any adoption agency which does so can claim to be many things — but one thing it can’t claim to be is Christian. At least, not in any sense that Jesus would understand.

  16. Ron Beasley says:

    @Davebo: A good start would only end their subsidizes but their tax exemptions as well. And yes I’m proudly anti religion and that includes all of the Abrahamic religions.

  17. Davebo says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Catholic Charities howled loudly when HHS chose to use other agencies for it’s Human Trafficking outreach.

    The reason was that HHS wanted to include access to birth control and CC refused. But according to the church it was all about Obama out to get god fearing Christians.

  18. Tillman says:

    After the Hobby Lobby decision, I’m not sure we can discuss anything concerning the health of people or their children “being put to the side in favor of religious beliefs” as a negative.

    Adoption’s not abortion, but we are dealing with two institutions arguing a religious claim to refuse a kind of service. To bow to the religious claims of one based on faulty science and yet allow the religious claims of another based on contemporaneous sentiment seems flawed as a judicial philosophy.

  19. stonetools says:

    BTW, with every month we see how right Ginsburg was in Hobby Lobby-and what a pompous dunce Alito was.

  20. Al says:

    Thank God.

  21. elizajane says:

    @Walter Olson:

    I too first thought “what the heck, gay couples can find another agency.” But the whole child welfare system is not that simple. If a child is being routed through agency x, they have to go to parents approved by agency x, whether or not that is in their best interests.

    I highly recommend the remarkable book Foster Care Odyssey: A Black Girl’s Story. The author was born in a Catholic hospital and although her birth mother left no instructions upon relinquishing her, somebody decided that she needed to be placed in a Catholic family. So she spent her entire childhood being whisked from one placement to another as Catholic family X decided not to adopt her and then Protestant family Y, who wanted to keep her, was not allowed to. Over and over. This woman is full of anger at the system that did this to her, and rightly so: she never had a permanent family because the “correct” one was never found.

    You might think “oh, it’s easy nowadays for any agency to place a newborn or small child.” Not at all — not if the birth mother was drug addicted, or alcoholic, or if the child has evident birth defects, or a chronic illness. Those are kids that gay couples are often happy to adopt and do really well with because they aren’t afraid to have an imperfect family or to reach out for help. As a gay adoptive parent of several special needs kids, I know that I am not alone here.

    I’ll stop ranting, but there are real, child-centered reasons why agencies should NOT be allowed to pick and choose parents on ANY basis other than what is best for each child.

  22. Walter Olson says:

    @elizajane: As I understand it the general practice on adoptive placement of kids waiting in social service care is that all licensed agencies are notified of a child’s availability, but none ordinarily gets to control the placement. It sounds as if the experience of the Foster Care Odyssey author was otherwise, and I should look up the book to see why that was and how the church agency managed to get itself into such a position of control (perhaps it had gotten the birthmother to agree to something?).

    It is some sort of Culture War irony that two groups have been outstanding in their willingness to adopt otherwise hard-to-place kids with unusual challenges: gays, and very devout (and often very conservative) Christians. I think regulating either group out of the system would be extremely harmful.

  23. Rafer Janders says:

    @Walter Olson:

    It is some sort of Culture War irony that two groups have been outstanding in their willingness to adopt otherwise hard-to-place kids with unusual challenges: gays, and very devout (and often very conservative) Christians. I think regulating either group out of the system would be extremely harmful

    Again, no one has regulated conservative Christian groups out of the system: they have voluntarily chosen to abandon the system after the system would no longer allow them to discriminate.

    There is no law, there is no regulation, that says “conservative Christians are not legally allowed to participate because of their religious beliefs.” Rather, the law says “everyone may participate”, and conservative Christians, not finding such open loving inclusivness in line with their, um, Christian beliefs, have decided that, well, if finding homes for loving orphans means we have to associate with those people, well then, let the orphans stay where they are, then.
    You know, just like Jesus would have done.
    To equate conservative Christians with gays in this scenario is, frankly, bizarre.

  24. george says:

    Why not then just allow them to discriminate for whatever reason they want?

    Seriously, there’s nothing special about religious reasons; some people take religion seriously, some people take sports seriously. If someone (understandably) wants to deny a couple adoption because they’re Toronto Maple Leaf fans, it makes at least as much sense as allowing them to deny a couple adoption because they’re homosexual.

    I doubt either couple (Maple Leaf fans or homosexuals) will particularly care if they were denied because of hockey team or religion, the only thing that will matter to them was they were denied for no meaningful reason.

  25. Rafer Janders says:

    @george:

    I doubt either couple (Maple Leaf fans or homosexuals) will particularly care if they were denied because of hockey team or religion, the only thing that will matter to them was they were denied for no meaningful reason.

    Well, it’s not quite the same though, is it? You can change your sexuality. But you can’t change your team. Born a Leafs fan, die a Leafs fan.

  26. Another Mike says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    You know, just like Jesus would have done.

    Twice now you have mentioned here that you would do just like Jesus would have done. In a way I envy your knowledge of what Jesus would have done. I am approaching 70 years old and pray every day for wisdom so that I might see as God sees, but all I come up with is that a child has a right to a father and a mother, which is something I already knew since I was a little kid.
    Catholic Charities hears the same message and in the best interests of the child places the child to the best of its ability with a loving father and mother. Secular organizations take a different view.
    Both kinds of organizations believe they are looking after the best interests of the child.
    By way of disclaimer I’ll say that my wife and I donate directly to Catholic Charities.

  27. JohnMcC says:

    Darn, I’d thought that surely Anita Bryant was dead but — no — she’s doing fine, I guess, at 75.

  28. wr says:

    @Another Mike: “Both kinds of organizations believe they are looking after the best interests of the child.”

    I think I’d be more impressed with this assertion if the next article on this site wasn’t about the archishop of Minnesota stepping down because he covered up the abuse of children by priests for years.

    Perhaps if the Catholic church is so watchful for the best interests of the children, they might want to spend a little effort actually trying to help them, instead of enabling and protecting their rapists while keeping gays from adopting for “moral” reasons.

  29. Modulo Myself says:

    @Walter Olson:

    And yet gay people are not suggesting that conservative Catholics or fundamentalist Christians should be the targets of discrimination when it comes to adoption. And I’m going to bet that if Christian couple was turned away for adoption because they were planning on homeschooling their child, every right-wing Christian in America would be talking about this horrifying act of persecution.

  30. Al says:
  31. elizajane says:

    @Al: Actually, I would say this was a perfect example of an instance where the parents should NOT be allowed to adopt and homeschool. They had 13 children living in their home because they “collected troubled kids”. One four-year-old went missing and was found wandering along the road.

    http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/christina-and-trevor-tutt-collected-troubled-kids-until-the-state-said-enough-was-enough-6433188

    Troubled kids, coming out of situations of abuse and neglect, need to be placed in a small family where they get a lot of personal attention; they also need to attend school so that other adults are involved in the kid’s life and are alert to signs of conflict or problematic behaviors. They need parents who are incredibly flexible and able to deal with real psychological and behavioral issues. Parents who “collect troubled kids” to give them a Christian upbringing so they will be saved through Christ — and I’ve heard from/ seen plenty of them, adopting domestically and internationally, often trying to produce missionaries and Biblically virtuous future wives & mothers — are absolutely problematic no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

  32. anjin-san says:

    Maybe it’s time for California to figure out a way to stop subsidizing welfare/ discrimination states…

  33. Barry says:

    @al-Ameda: “So, Michigan has to decided to go “Kansas” or “North Carolina” too?”

    (MI native here) I first heard the term ‘Michissippi’ a year or so ago. It describes what’s happening here.

  34. Barry says:

    @Walter Olson: I was going to translate this into terms of race/gender, but I figured that anybody would spot that upon reading it.

  35. Barry says:

    @Walter Olson: “It is some sort of Culture War irony that two groups have been outstanding in their willingness to adopt otherwise hard-to-place kids with unusual challenges: gays, and very devout (and often very conservative) Christians. I think regulating either group out of the system would be extremely harmful.”

    “..very devout (and often very conservative) Christians…” are not being regulated out. They are choosing discrimination over helping others.

    Read your Bible.

  36. Barry says:

    @Another Mike: “Catholic Charities hears the same message and in the best interests of the child places the child to the best of its ability with a loving father and mother.”

    The point is that they don’t.

  37. wr says:

    @Another Mike: “In a way I envy your knowledge of what Jesus would have done. I am approaching 70 years old and pray every day for wisdom so that I might see as God sees, but all I come up with is that a child has a right to a father and a mother, which is something I already knew since I was a little kid.”

    It’s actually not all that hard to understand what Jesus would have done. All you have to do is read his words, which are printed quite clearly in the New Testament. You could start with the sermon on the mount and go from there.

    The real trouble is that what Jesus would want directly contradicts what most “conservatives” want. And so they pretend it’s all unclear and fuzzy and so hard to figure out that what they’re doing — hurting the poor and weak, issuing harsh judgments on other lifestyles to the point of criminalizing them, worshipping the rich — is in direct opposition to the words they claim to revere.

    You can follow Jesus or you can be a Republican. Or you can lie to yourself and claim to do both.