Our Editorial: Don’t force adoption agency conformity

The Detroit News

The American Civil Liberties Union wants religious agencies that facilitate adoptions to serve all couples — including same-sex ones. That goes against the deeply held beliefs of many of these providers, and as long as gay couples have other options, forcing this kind of conformity is wrong.

The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit last week challenging what it calls “LGBT adoption discrimination practices in Michigan.” A 2015 state law protects faith-based agencies that contract with the state to find homes for the children in the state foster care system by letting them refer same-sex couples to another agency.

The law enshrined a longstanding agreement between the state and these adoption agencies. At the time, we cautioned that codifying these practices would put a target on Michigan’s back. And that’s clearly what’s happened.

The ACLU says six other states have laws like Michigan’s and that they “permit agencies to make child placement decisions based on agency religious beliefs and not the best interests of children.”

“Allowing state-contracted agencies to screen out prospective families based on religious criteria not only harms the children most in need, it is also unconstitutional,” claims Leslie Cooper, senior ACLU staff attorney.

But the lawsuit isn’t considering the religious rights of those who work at these agencies. It could also jeopardize the work these faith-based child placement agencies do in Michigan. States that have demanded such compliance saw them drop out of the market altogether because of lost government funding. That’s happened in at least three other states.

And it would be a huge loss to this state, where 25 percent of agencies are religiously affiliated, says David Maluchnik, vice president of communications for the Michigan Catholic Conference.

“This suit challenging Michigan’s law is mean-spirited, divisive and intolerant,” the Catholic Conference said in a statement. “It is counter-productive toward efforts to assist vulnerable persons and to promote a variety of opportunities for differing families. It is imperative for the state law to be defended from yet another egregious attack on religious faith in public life.”

Because of the lawsuit, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officials declined to comment on whether there is a shortage of agencies that will work with same-sex couples or whether they hear from couples unable to find an agency to work with them.

The lawsuit doesn’t really address that either. Rather, this case is all about forcing religious institutions to comply.

The suit was filed on behalf of several individuals, including two Michigan couples. Kristy and Dana Dumont of Dimondale say they were turned away by two faith-based adoption agencies because they are lesbians.

The ACLU points to the 13,000 children in Michigan’s foster care system who are waiting for homes as rationale for why the state’s law should be challenged. According to the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange, more than 3,000 children in foster care are waiting for a permanent home.

Gay and lesbian couples who want to offer a child a loving home should be able to do so. And they have that ability in Michigan. It seems unnecessary to go the extra step and mandate compliance from Catholic and other Christian agencies. That’s the gamble of taking government funding, however.

As long as same-sex couples have other avenues for adopting children, then this lawsuit has one purpose: To limit the freedom of these institutions that do good work for Michigan children and families.