LANSING, Mich. — The attorney general of Michigan, who identifies a lesbian, has reached a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that will prohibit State-contracted foster care and adoption agencies from discriminating against prospective parents, which includes homosexual households.
“Discrimination in the provision of foster care case management and adoption services is illegal, no matter the rationale,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. “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.”
A summary of the settlement outlines that Michigan will enforce its current contract language prohibiting discrimination, which it says is consistent with both federal and state law.
Examples of discrimination outlined in the document include “turning away or referring to another contracted agency an otherwise potentially qualified LGBTQ individual or same-sex couple that may be a suitable foster or adoptive family for any child accepted by the agency for contracted services,” and “refusing to place a child accepted by the agency for contracted services with an otherwise qualified LGBTQ individual or same-sex couple suitable as a foster or adoptive family for the child.”
Organizations that commit these delineated violations may have their contract with the State terminated.
As previously reported, in 2017, the ACLU filed suit against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Michigan Children’s Services Agency on behalf of four lesbian women who contacted St. Vincent’s Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services in an effort to adopt a child.
Because both organizations operate in accordance with their religious beliefs, they do not place children in homes where there is not both a mother and a father.
“When somebody calls in with interest to become a foster parent or adoptive parent … if they let us know they’re unmarried, or if they’re gay or lesbian, we immediately recommend, make a referral to another agency … for other agencies that provide that service,” Jose Carrera, director of clinical services for St. Vincent Catholic Charities, told legislators in 2015.
Representatives therefore told the women that the agencies could not be of assistance, or that “same-sex couples aren’t our area of expertise.”
The lesbian women stated in their lawsuit that they “object to the use of taxpayer funds to underwrite and endorse religious beliefs to which they do not subscribe.” They also contended that allowing State-hired religious adoption agencies to decline to place children with homosexuals deprives homosexuals “of their rights protected by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
“There is no legitimate government interest served by denying children access to potentially qualified families based on a religious exclusion,” the complaint asserted.
The ACLU consequently sought an injunction to prevent the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Michigan Children’s Services Agency from contracting with, or providing taxpayer funding to, any child placement agency that “employ religious criteria in decisions regarding the screening of prospective foster and adoptive parents.”
After Nessel took office in January, she reviewed the case and determined that the agency could be held legally liable. She decided to reach a settlement with the ACLU, which resulted in a voluntary dismissal of the case. Nessel also released a video statement about the matter.
“For some families right now, the only option in their area is an adoption agency that won’t provide services to them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression,” Nessel remarked. “The law says they can accept or reject a referral from the department, but once they accept that referral, they cannot discriminate in providing services for foster children, including turning away same-sex couples.”
As previously reported, as of 2015, Michigan law provides that “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.”
The religious liberties organization Becket spoke out against the recent settlement with Nessel’s office, opining in a statement, “The Michigan Attorney General and the ACLU are trying to stop the state from working with faith-based adoption agencies. The result of that will be tragic. Thousands of children will be kept from finding the loving homes they deserve. ”
“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.”
State Rep. James Lower, R-Cedar Lake, also lamented the outcome, telling the Detroit Free Press, “[T]he situation puts these agencies in a tough situation because they have been able to refer couples to another agency that is willing to work with same-sex couples. But now, they’ll have to choose to either not help the kids or violate their religious beliefs.”