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Legislation to discriminate in adoptions

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Legislation would give private adoption agencies the legal right to turn down prospective parents for any moral or religious reason.  That’s what’s in a pair of bills being considered by lawmakers in Lansing.

The bills would guarantee private adoption agencies working on state contracts would be protected from rules that could compromise their religious or moral convictions.

The legislation’s sponsor, Kenneth Kurtz, is the Republican chair of the House Committee on Families, Children, and Seniors. During testimony, Representative Kurtz described himself as a person of faith who could not sit by and watch religious liberties be eroded by government interference.

“This memorializes a law that people of faith can adhere to their convictions without any fear of reprisal  from government administrations that wish to discriminate against beliefs regarding on how we should raise our children.”

To be clear, currently there is no proposal to restrict private adoption agencies religious rights or how they choose which qualified parents are able to adopt.

Representative Kurtz calls this preventive legislation.

Among those who spoke to oppose the legislation was Jay Kaplan. He’s an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. He says these bills would make it legal for private adoption agencies to discriminate against qualified adoptive parents even if it was not in the best interest of a child.

Among the possible examples he outlined, he described, “A Jewish adoption agency could refuse to place a medically needy child into a Lutheran home of medical professionals. A loving aunt could be turned away from adopting her nephew because she is divorced or single. An agency may believe that women should raise a child and as a consequence deny any placements to a male caregiver.”

The ACLU feels this is using public money to discriminate based on religious beliefs.

The operators of faith-based adoption agencies argued in favor of the bills, saying they would protect their religious liberties.

Tom Hickson is with the Michigan Catholic Conference. Catholic Charities, on a contract with the state, finds homes for about 10 percent of the kids adopted in Michigan.

Hickson says it is not discrimination when a faith-based adoption agency opts to turn down a qualified person for adoption.

“Opting to not participate is merely that: opting to not participate. The decision does not follow the prospective parent and he or she is free to use the services one of the many other agencies in the state be it faith based, non-faith based, you name it.”

Hickson told the committee that if the government were to pass policies that violate Catholic convictions, Catholic Charities would be forced to close its adoption services.

Catholic adoption agencies have already done that in other states.

Michigan has thousands of kids in foster care who need adoptive families. The state is already struggling to find homes for them. If faith based adoption agencies were to close because some future state law or rule conflicted with their convictions, Michigan would be in a tough spot.

But not everyone believes this legislation is merely to protect religious liberties of faith based adoption agencies.

Underlying much of the discussion around these bills is whether this is really a move to discriminate against gays and lesbians. There is concern within the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender community that this is a thinly veiled attempt to stop them from adopting. Emily Dievendorf is with the LGBT advocacy group Equality.

She admonished the committee, saying it has better, more important things to do. She told the members she’d found a list of bills 24 pages long that deserve the attention in these last two weeks of the lame duck session.

“The vast majority of these bills have not received a hearing. The vast majority of these bills would try to make the lives of our kids better, more stable, safer, more loving.”

And instead, she said, the committee was hearing bills about protecting religious liberties of adoption agencies in a veiled attempt to discriminate against gay and lesbian families.

Dievendorf says the Committee on Families, Children, and Seniors should keep its name in mind… and help families and children.

“We should be asking our adoption agencies which receive public funding to be finding homes for our kids because they are good homes for our kids and not because we want to empower them to exercise their own personal bias.”

Representative Kurtz, the chair of the committee and sponsor, did not call for a vote on the bills during the committee meeting. If they are passed, they’ll go on to the full House.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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