Despite the need for more families to care for the state's most vulnerable children, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services permits child placement agencies to turn away prospective foster and adoptive families headed by same-sex couples based on their religious objections.
ACLU attorney Leslie Cooper says it's also bad for kids, especially since there are more displaced children in MI than families ready to take them in. "Allowing agencies to turn away loving, qualified families based on religious criteria creates fewer families for children, reducing their chances of being placed in a suitable family, or any family at all".
David Maluchnik, a spokesman for the Michigan Catholic Conference, said the 2015 law was necessary after IL and MA ruled that child-placement agencies contracting with the state couldn't discriminate against same-sex couples. Under a law passed in 2015, shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage equality decision, the state must not "adverse action", including the stripping of funds, against agencies that reject prospective parents on faith-based grounds. The lawsuit, however, asserts this policy is not being applied under MI law to state-contracted child placement agencies engaging in anti-LGBT discrimination. One of the couples, Kristy and Dana Dumont, said they were turned down by two child placement agencies contracted by the state.
The ACLU of MI said it was the first such legal challenge filed in the state. If they decline to work with same-sex couples, they're required to give applicants a list of other providers.
"Children don't to get to choose the agency" that places them for foster care or adoption, Kaplan said.
He pointed out there are 13,000 children in Michigan's child welfare system. "We wanted to adopt out of foster care in our local community so it would be the least disruptive for the kid", Kristy said on a conference call announcing the lawsuit today. It violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which bars the use of religious criteria in the provision of government services like foster care and adoption services for children in state custody.
The number of religious exemption laws have almost doubled this year, with seven states now having laws that allow religious-based discrimination against same-sex couples who want to adopt or foster children.
"Decisions about adoption and foster family placements should be made based on the needs of the child, not the religious beliefs of the agency", Kaplan said.
In addition to MI, six other states have similar legislation: Texas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia.