Editorial: New law threatens faith-based adoptions

The Detroit News

In codifying an informal policy that allowed faith-based adoption agencies to refer gay clients to other organizations, Michigan Republicans almost certainly have started the clock ticking on the ability of the religious groups to continue finding homes for children.

The hurry-up legislation passed last week by the GOP-controlled House and Senate and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder makes law of a longstanding practice of allowing faith-based agencies who consider homosexuality a violation of their religious doctrines to pass along gay would-be parents to secular institutions.

Contrary to claims of some critics, the new law does not limit the ability of gays to adopt children in Michigan.

But it may soon limit the ability of faith-based groups to facilitate adoptions. The law places a large target on Michigan, and the practice of directing state funds to agencies that discriminate against specific groups of citizens will almost certainly invite a federal lawsuit if the U.S. Supreme Court, as expected, strikes down Michigan's ban on gay marriage later this month.

Beyond that, at this critical moment for gay rights, it conveys the message that Michigan is hostile to gays. That is not a good marketing strategy for a state hungry for highly skilled workers and global business investment.

We understand the Legislature wanted to protect the vital work of faith-based agencies such as Catholic Social Services that handle roughly half the adoptions in the state. At the moment, there is no replacement. If the state is not allowed to do business with the faith-based groups because of their beliefs regarding homosexuality, thousands of children will suffer.

We supported religious freedom provisions when they were tie-barred to an expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to cover gays and lesbians. Those were narrow protections to keep private individuals such as photographers, bakers and florists from being compelled to participate in activities that violate their conscience. It was a fair compromise.

But Democrats, seeking a more perfect bill, scuttled the deal. So now, as we predicted, Michigan is getting the religious conscience bills without the important protections for gays and lesbians.

The bill passed last week is different in that it seeks to allow agencies that accept money from the state to discriminate. And while the hope was to shield the groups from legal action, it is not likely to stop lawsuits against the state. Michigan can be assured those challenges are coming.

And when they do, the most probable outcome is that the state will have to disassociate from faith-based agencies that discriminate.

Three states — California, Illinois and Massachusetts — and the District of Columbia have already been forced to stop dealing with faith-based agencies that refuse to place a child with a same-sex couple.

While Congress is considering a bill that would extend protections to such groups, it is not likely to get a presidential signature even if it should pass.

Michigan must now turn its attention to protecting the 3,000 children who are awaiting homes.