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A federal judge declined Friday to dismiss a lawsuit filed by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan challenging religious discrimination against same-sex couples in the state’s public child welfare system.

The suit asks U.S. District Judge Paul Borman to enter an order that bars Michigan from entering into contracts with or providing taxpayer funding to private child placing agencies that exclude same-sex couples from consideration as foster or adoptive parents. It also seeks an order directing the state to ensure that lesbian and gay individuals and couples are treated the same as heterosexual individuals and couples by state-contracted child placing agencies.

The case involves two Michigan couples, Kristy and Dana Dumont and Erin and Rebecca Busk-Sutton, who each sought to adopt a child in foster care but faced rejection from state-contracted child placement agencies based on religious objections to same-sex parents.

Attorneys for the defendants — St. Vincent Catholic Charities, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director Nick Lyon and state Children’s Services Agency head Herman McCall — recently requested Borman toss out the case. They have argued a 2015 state law says child placement agencies shall not be required to provide services that conflict with their religious beliefs and the plaintiffs could adopt through another agency.

In his order Friday, the judge said the couples had successfully argued the religious screening practices harmed them and denied “the same opportunities to work with a child placing agency that is available to every other family in Michigan seeking to adopt.”

Borman granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss another person in the case, Jennifer Ludolph, saying the former foster child who objected to taxpayer dollars funding child-placing agencies that turn away qualified families over religious objections failed to establish standing to proceed with her claims.

However, he rejected St. Vincent’s arguments that its free speech would be violated if Michigan were barred from allowing religious criteria by private agencies the state hired.

“Much of St. Vincent’s argument relating to its First Amendment claims relies
on matters outside the pleadings that the Court cannot consider at this stage of proceedings and that in many instances directly contradicts the allegations of Plaintiffs’ Complaint,” the judge wrote.

Lawyers for the state did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday night.

Mark Rienzi, an attorney with Becket, a nonprofit, public-interest law firm that represents St. Vincent, said in a statement: “Today's court ruling allows the ACLU's lawsuit to proceed — a lawsuit aimed at forbidding the state from working with faith-based adoption agencies to help children in need. Such a result would make it much harder for thousands of children to find the loving home they each deserve. Becket is fighting to make sure that doesn’t happen, and this is just one step along the journey in this case.”

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