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A Michigan faith-based adoption agency sued for declining to work with same-sex couples has changed its policy to come in line with a state settlement in the case.

Bethany Christian Services will comply with all “legal contract requirements” to continue operations in Michigan, a spokesman for the organization said.

Attorney General Dana Nessel's office declined official comment on Bethany' s policy change, but Nessel expressed her thanks to the organization via Twitter over the weekend. 

An increase in non-discriminatory adoption agencies would result in "more children adopted into loving, nurturing 'forever' homes," Nessel tweeted.

As of February, Bethany was responsible for roughly 8% of the state’s foster care and adoption agencies.

But its contract with the state was in jeopardy after Nessel reached a settlement in March with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan that would require the Michigan Department of Human Services to end state contracts with agencies if they discriminate against same-sex couples.

The lawsuit had been filed by the ACLU on behalf of two gay couples who had been referred to other agencies when they attempted to work with Bethany and St. Vincent Catholic Charities.

Last week, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, a former foster child and an adoptive mother filed suit against the department alleging the new rules violated the group’s First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and free speech and its 14th Amendment rights to equal protection.

St. Vincent’s and other faith-based foster care and adoption agencies will have to close their doors if forced to comply with the new state rules, lawyer Nick Reaves said last week.

While Bethany was “disappointed” with the settlement agreement, it plans to work under the new conditions, the Grand Rapids-based group said in a statement.

“The mission and beliefs of Bethany Christian Services have not changed,” the group said. “We are focused on demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by serving children in need, and we intend to continue doing so in Michigan.”

While the First Amendment certainly allows groups varying stances on the issue, it does not allow the state to "shut down people you disagree with," said Lori Windham, senior counsel for Becket, the religious liberty group representing St. Vincent's.

"Religious freedom means different people can make different choices," Windham said in a statement. "That's what freedom looks like in America."

Bethany is one 58 agencies that contract with the state for foster care and adoption services. As of mid-February, the agency was responsible for 1,159 of the state’s roughly 13,000 foster care and adoption cases.

“The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is pleased that the department will be able to continue its long-standing partnership with Bethany in providing services to children and families,” department spokesman Bob Wheaton said.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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