WASHINGTON (BP) — Children who need homes will suffer under a lawsuit settlement in Michigan barring adoption agencies that abide by their religious convictions from partnering with the state, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said.
Attorney General Dana Nessel announced March 22 a settlement with two lesbian couples in their ACLU-represented lawsuit against Michigan as a result of the refusal of two state-contracted ministries — St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services — to place children in their homes.
The agreement came despite a 2015 Michigan law that protects the rights of faith-based adoption agencies to decline to place children with same-sex couples because of their beliefs about marriage and the family.
Michigan charges the attorney general “with the job of enforcing the law, not with gutting laws she doesn’t like,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The settlement reached between [Nessel] and the ACLU clearly violates Michigan state laws protecting adoption agencies and subverts the will of the people expressed in free and fair elections.
“The egregiousness of the settlement is surpassed only by its short-sightedness,” Moore said in an ERLC release. “A state holding adoption agencies hostage will harm children who may now be denied loving homes.”
Moore said he hopes the state “will take seriously its charge to protect the welfare of vulnerable children, not endanger children by bullying agencies trying to serve orphans.”
Becket senior counsel Lori Windham said the result of the settlement, if it stands, “will be tragic.”
“Thousands of children will be kept from finding the loving homes they deserve,” said Windham in a release from the religious freedom legal organization. “This settlement violates the state law protecting religious adoption agencies. This harms children and families waiting for forever homes and limits access for couples who chose to partner with those agencies.”
Nessel — who is in a same-sex marriage and took office in January — said in announcing the settlement, “Discrimination in the provision of foster care case management and adoption services is illegal, no matter the rationale. 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 her campaign for attorney general, Nessel said she would not defend the 2015 state law protecting the religious freedom rights of adoption agencies. Her office denied the settlement conflicts with that law, according to The Detroit News.
The Michigan settlement is the latest development in the ongoing clash between the religious liberty of faith-based adoption agencies and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
In addition to Michigan, eight states and the District of Columbia have laws or policies that require child welfare agencies to place children with same-sex couples in adoption, foster care or both, according to the Movement Advancement Project (MAP). They are California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
Nine other states, MAP reports, have enacted measures that protect the right of agencies to abide by their religious or moral convictions in adoption and foster care: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia.
MAP describes itself as a think tank that provides research to help hasten equality for LGBT people.
The ERLC has made a federal solution to the problem a priority in its legislative agenda. It worked for passage of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act last year, but the bill failed to gain passage. The ERLC is working again in this congressional session to gain support for the proposal, which would bar government discrimination against agencies that provide foster care and adoption services on the basis of their convictions.
In September 2017, the ACLU brought suit in federal court on behalf of the same-sex couples, contending the state infringes the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause by permitting private organizations it has contracts with to reject same-sex couples as adoptive parents based on the agencies’ religious beliefs.
The settlement that ended the suit calls for Michigan to cancel a contract with a child-placement agency that refuses to comply with a Department of Health and Human Services provision prohibiting discrimination based on “sexual orientation” or “gender identity or expression” among a range of protected classes. The settlement bars such an agency from rejecting or referring to another state-contracted, child-placement agency a LGBT person or same-sex couple who may otherwise be potentially qualified to be a “suitable foster or adoptive family.”
Michigan has about 14,000 children in foster care, and about 3,000 of the children in the system will become free to be adopted each year, according to AdoptUSKids.