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Snyder signs law to let adoption agencies to refuse service based on faith objection

Jun 11, 2015

Credit antiochla.edu / Antioch University

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that allows faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to work with same-sex couples or other families based on a religious objection.

The governor says he signed the law to ensure the most opportunities to place children with permanent families. But, the law is almost certain to face a legal challenge.

Governor Snyder says the state’s making progress in getting more foster kids placed with families, and faith-based adoption services have played a big part in that success.

“Let’s continue our current practice and let’s work hard to get as many children adopted by loving families, by forever families, as we can in the state of Michigan,” he says. Snyder says he was persuaded that some faith-based agencies could simply close their doors without the new law.

Faith-based agencies like Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Charities account for somewhere between a quarter and a third of all taxpayer-funded adoptions in the state.

"Whether it's a case of a heterosexual couple or an LGBT situation, I want to see the most kids adopted in loving families."

The governor says agencies that refuse to work with a couple based on a religious objection would still have to refer the family to an agency that will work them “…because my goal is to get kids with loving, forever families, whether it’s a case of a heterosexual couple or an LGBT situation, I want to see the most kids adopted in loving families.”

Faith-based groups cheered the new law. A statement from Bethany Christian Services says the new law will “preserve for faith-based agencies the freedom to be faithful to our convictions. “ In a separate statement, the Michigan Catholic Conference said the law “will ensure the state does not discriminate against social service agencies that serve the poor and vulnerable while providing foster care and adoption services to the general public.”

This new law was adopted as the U.S. Supreme Court is likely just weeks away from issuing its long-awaited ruling on same-sex marriage. And critics of the law say it’s a preemptive effort to limit the effects if the awards marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.

“This bill in Michigan is part of a broad trend that we’ve seen playing out in about 26 legislatures this year,” says Selene Kaye with the Out for Freedom project.

She says about 70 bills have been introduced in statehouses this year that would limit adoption rights, for access, or restrict access to public accommodations. But, she says, in the vast majority of cases, the bills stalled or were voted down.

“There were similar bills, in the adoption context, similar to the Michigan bill in Florida, Texas, and Alabama, and all three of those state legislatures rejected those bills,” she says.

Governor Snyder slowed the march of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the Legislature earlier this year. It was similar to laws that caused a storm of controversy after they were adopted in Indiana and Arkansas. Snyder said he would veto the bill unless the Legislature simultaneously added LGBT protections to Michigan’s civil rights law.

"Since these agencies are receiving state money and they are agents of the state, we believe they are violating First Amendment protections and other constitutional protections."

 Opponents of the adoption bill hoped for similar treatment.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan plans to file a legal challenge to the Michigan adoption law, says the ACLU’s Rana Elmir.

“Since these agencies are receiving state money and they are agents of the state, we believe they are violating First Amendment protections and other constitutional protections,” she says.

Elmir says the acknowledgement by the state, the Legislature, and the adoption agencies that couples are already turned away based on religious criteria only strengthens the case against the new law.