Snyder signs controversial faith-based adoption bills

and Gary Heinlein

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder signed a controversial package of bills Thursday allowing faith-based agencies to turn away gay and lesbian couples seeking state-supported adoptions.

Snyder signed the bills without ceremony, just one day after the Legislature sent him the legislation. The law goes into effect immediately. The ACLU of Michigan vows to challenge it.

The new law allows faith-based adoption agencies to invoke their sincerely held religious beliefs in denying adoption placement services to gay and lesbian couples who want to be parents. The agencies would be required to refer gay and lesbian couples to another adoption agency.

In a statement, the Republican governor emphasized the bills puts adoption practices, already in use, into law.

Snyder’s quick signature of the bills came after Senate Republicans held an unexpected vote on the legislation Wednesday that was not on the chamber’s published agenda. The bills cleared a Senate committee in late April.

The swift passage and gubernatorial signature took opponents by surprise and left little time for members of the business-dominated Michigan Competitive Workplace Coalition to get direction from corporate leadership on whether they could oppose the bills, said Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the ACLU of Michigan, a member of the coalition.

“By the time they all tried to get it through the hierarchy of where they would be on these bills, they were being signed by the governor this morning,” Weisberg said Thursday. “They moved so fast. I had no inkling they were moving until Wednesday morning.”

The coalition was formed last year to lobby Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature for a ban on discrimination in hiring, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Snyder’s office said that adoption rates in Michigan have continued to increase in recent years. In the 2014 fiscal year, 85 percent of children in the foster system were adopted, up from 70 percent in 2011. As many as 13,000 children reside in Michigan’s foster care system at any given time, according to lawmakers.

“The state has made significant progress in finding more forever homes for Michigan kids in recent years and that wouldn’t be possible without the public-private partnerships that facilitate the adoption process,” Snyder said in a statement. “We are focused on ensuring that as many children are adopted to as many loving families as possible regardless of their makeup.”

In fiscal year 2014, Michigan spent $19.9 million on contracts with private agencies for adoption services, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. It accounted for about 85 percent of the $23.2 million the state spent that year on adoption support services.

Seventeen of Michigan’s 62 adoption placement agencies are faith-based, according to the Michigan Catholic Conference.

The ACLU said Thursday it is preparing to challenge the new law in court by contending the adoption agencies serve as agents of state government when placing children under contract with the DHHS.

“It’s illegal for the state of Michigan to discriminate in these placements,” said Rana Elmir, deputy director.

Paul A. Long, president of the Michigan Catholic Conference, praised the governor’s action Thursday, saying the new 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.”

Critics have said the new law gives faith-based adoption agencies a legal license to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

“Gov. Rick Snyder has proven today that he has utter disdain for the welfare of children in Michigan and that he cares only about empowering backwards discrimination,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. The group placed a full-page ad, “Shame on Gov. Snyder,” in Friday’s The Detroit News.

Opponents of the new adoption law have compared it to the religious freedom law Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed in March that caused a national uproar because it would have allowed private businesses to refuse to serve gays and lesbians. Pence later reversed course and signed a second law banning discrimination against gays and lesbians for public accommodations and business services.

“We hope that Gov. Snyder is prepared for the same amount of backlash that was seen in Indiana when they passed similar RFRA-style legislation and we encourage the people to raise up their voices in protest,” Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said in a statement Thursday.

Snyder has vowed to veto a Religious Freedom Restoration Act bill modeled after Indiana’s ill-fated law if it’s not tied to a bill adding sexual orientation to Michigan’s law banning discrimination in workplaces, housing and public accommodations.