January 30, 2023
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National Recap: Michigan sued over same-sex adoption policy

A faith-based adoption agency filed a lawsuit against the state of Michigan on April 15 following the state’s prohibition of adoption agencies discriminating against same-sex couples. The lawsuit claims the state is violating the constitutional right of freedom of expression.

The lawsuit was filed through the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on behalf of Michigan-based foster and adoptive services contractor St. Vincent Catholic Charities, a couple who adopted five children through St. Vincent and a woman who was adopted through St. Vincent.

The lawsuit was also filed following Michigan’s decision that it would no longer contract with foster and adoption agencies that discriminated against same-sex couples or LGBTQ people. The settlement reached March 26 ended the state’s status as one of the nine states in the U.S. that allow state-contracted foster and adoption agencies to act on their religious beliefs.

After the March settlement, the district attorney’s office released a statement saying adoption agencies had the choice of whether or not to accept the ruling. Additionally, the state is not allowed to take adverse action against said agency for acting on its “sincerely held religious beliefs.” However, the agencies are not allowed to provide state-contracted foster care while still discriminating against LGBTQ people.

The March 26 decision was the conclusion of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two same-sex couples who said they were turned away by adoption agencies because of their sexuality. The lawsuit was also part of a larger national debate over religion in the child welfare system, sparked by President Donald Trump’s administration allowing federally funded welfare agencies in South Carolina to continue to refuse services that conflict with their religious beliefs.

Becket Fund attorney Nick Reaves said the lawsuit was filed because St. Vincent not providing its services to LGBTQ people does not fully take away their options to foster or adopt children, and many other agencies allow them access. Reaves argued that to ask the agency to service LGBTQ people would be asking it to go against its integral beliefs, and its refusal to do so should not result in the elimination of its contract with the state.

“There isn’t any access problem or harm in [St. Vincent] continuing to operate as they were,” Reaves said. “They don’t stand in the way of same-sex couples.”

Reaves also said St. Vincent would rather no longer provide child-placement services than act against its religious beliefs, which he said would be a major loss for child welfare in Michigan. The agency currently has 86 children in its care, and the previous year it placed 69 children in foster homes and finalized 19 adoptions, he said.

Becket Fund President Mark Rienzi said in a statement that St. Vincent does important work in child welfare and the state should not try to limit the work it does.

“Faith-based agencies like St. Vincent consistently do the best work because of their faith, and we need more agencies like them — not fewer,” Rienzi said. “The actions by the attorney general of Michigan do nothing but harm the thousands of at-risk children in desperate need of loving homes.”

In response to the April lawsuit, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said through a spokeswoman that the Becket Fund’s attorneys do not understand the settlement agreement made in March.

Meredith Burke can be reached at mburke@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @meredithsburke