ACLU Sues Michigan for Allowing Adoption Agencies to Turn Away Gay Parents

The ACLU is suing Michigan for allowing faith-based adoption agencies to turn away same-gender couples based on religious ethos. The civil rights group claims that this state law is blatantly unconstitutional. 

Many U.S. states outsource their adoption and foster care services to accredited third parties — and these are often institutions with strong religious affiliation. Some faith-based agencies refuse to comply with state and federal law, denying services to same-gender couples.

While state marriage bans — and their de facto bans on same-gender parent adoption — had previously covered religious institutions in this regard, the 2015 Supreme Court marriage equality ruling removed any such shield. Therefore, same-gender couples across the country should have been awarded all the rights associated with marriage, including the right to jointly adopt.

Not so in Michigan, however.

Per a 2015 law signed by Governor Rick Snyder, the state allows religious institutions to deny services to same-gender married couples on the grounds of a sincerely held religious belief.

The ACLU contends that this brings real world harm to same-gender couples, and the organization is petitioning the courts for a remedy. In a release, the ACLU tells the story of its lead plaintiffs:

Couples like Kristy and Dana Dumont and Erin and Rebecca Busk-Sutton experienced this discrimination first-hand. Having seen recruitment emails featuring photos and bios of children in foster care waiting to be adopted, Kristy and Dana were moved and felt they could provide a loving family for a child in need. They contacted a state-contracted agency to start the process. When the agency representative learned they were two women, she told them the agency does not work with same-sex couples. Kristy and Dana made another attempt with another agency and got the same answer. Erin and Rebecca had a similar experience when they reached out to an agency about adopting a child out of foster care.

As such, the ACLU has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Michigan Southern Division, contending that this is blatant discrimination. The federal lawsuit has wider significance, too.

Several other states —  including North Dakota, Virginia and Mississippi — allow adoption services to discriminate based on their particular religious values. This can include discriminating against couples who are unmarried, single parent families and individuals of ”the wrong faith.”

The ACLU has been very clear that it is not suing the private institutions offering adoption services, but rather the state of Michigan itself. Local LGBT rights groups also take issue with state funds used to promote religious discrimination.

Stephanie White of Equality Michigan explains:

The idea that our state would be funding organizations who keep children in that situation rather than loving, stable, supportive families who just happen to have two parents of the same sex is harmful and offensive. These are not just private institutions operating under private funds under their own private rules. These are institutions that have been given a government contract [which uses] our public tax dollars to support this discrimination. The fact that I’m being asked to fund, through my own tax dollars, my own discrimination is outrageous.

Some have contended that businesses should have a right to refuse service based on religious ethos: if the couple doesn’t like it, they can go elsewhere. But this argument misses a couple of important facts.

First, same-gender couples shouldn’t have to go elsewhere. Unless the adoption agency can prove that it employs the same standards in assessing all its prospective clients, it is selectively enforcing certain aspects of the Bible to perpetuate anti-gay discrimination.

And because religious outfits make up a high proportion of the industry, couples may face significant financial hardships traveling to LGBT-friendly adoption service providers.

Religious adoption agencies also receive significant monetary compensation through direct state funding and certain tax breaks. That means they are using taxpayer money to infringe on constitutional rights of equal treatment — and that’s clearly unjust.

Hopefully, this lawsuit can emphasize that, while everyone has a right to a private faith, religion cannot be used as a shield for discrimination in the public sector.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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