LANSING (AP) – Faith-based adoption agencies with state contracts could refuse to participate in referrals that violate their beliefs under legislation approved Wednesday by Michigan’s Republican Legislature, despite objections that it would permit discrimination against gay couples and others.
Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican who has expressed concerns that the bills could bring about lawsuits, did not indicate whether he would sign or veto them. Spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said he would “closely” review the legislation “through the lens of what will ensure that we are taking care of the most Michigan children and matching them with their forever families.”READ MORE: U Of M Establishes New Sexual Misconduct Policy For Employees, Students
Senate Republicans voted 26-12 almost entirely along party lines after a debate during which some lawmakers recounted their own experiences of being adopted or adopting children. The House gave final approval, 65-44, after passing an earlier version in March.
Supporters said the legislation would codify the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ existing practice for private agencies with child-placing contracts, solidifying their relationship with the state. Agencies with religious objections to a prospective adoption would have to refer an applicant to another willing and able agency or to a state website listing other providers.
Opponents said the bills would ignore children’s best interests, legalize discrimination and make Michigan a less enticing place to live. They likened the legislation to a recently enacted religious objections law in Indiana that had to be softened because of a strong backlash over the possibility of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“Sexual orientation doesn’t have any correlation with quality of parenting or the ability to provide safe, stable, loving home to a child,” said Sen. Coleman Young II, a Detroit Democrat.
Backers said concerns that the bills would keep kids from being adopted are unfounded, saying faith-based agencies account for a quarter of Michigan’s 105 adoption and foster care providers.
“We just codified what has been going on for the last five decades, that faith-based agencies are allowed to exercise their religious freedom in placing,” said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, a West Olive Republican and “proud product” of an adoption through a religious-based agency.READ MORE: AG Nessel Reissues Consumer Alerts Amid Flooding, Power Outages In Michigan
The measures specify that child-placing agencies would not have to provide services in conflict with their “sincerely held” religious beliefs, meaning they could decline a referral for foster care management or adoption services without fear of an “adverse action” by the state or local governments.
Private agencies – which received $19.9 million from the state for adoption services in the last fiscal year – could cite the law as a defense in judicial or administrative proceedings. If they declined to provide services, they would have to give applicants a written list of other adoption or foster care providers.
The Michigan Catholic Conference and others have lobbied for the legislation for years, but it has gained traction ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected ruling on gay marriage in the coming weeks. In 2011, Illinois ended long-standing contracts with Catholic Charities to provide foster care and adoptions because of the group’s practice of referring unmarried couples to other agencies.
Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., an East Lansing Democrat, said he is a divorced Catholic who adopted one of his four children. He called the legislation “ridiculous” and said it would erode civil rights.
“We’re all sinners, every one of us. For some reason the Church wants to pick and choose which sins are worthy and unworthy to raise a child,” Hertel said. “No state and no church gets to define what a family is.”
But Sen. Tom Casperson, an Escanaba Republican, said: “We have to be open to both sides of this.”MORE NEWS: 17-Year-Old Charged In Non-Fatal Shooting In Detroit
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