Michigan adoption agencies receiving government funding are no longer required to provide equal support to LGBTQ families, a federal judge ruled in a preliminary injunction last week for a case that involves a Catholic social service agency
Judge Robert Jonker’s decision reverses a settlement reached in March between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Dana Nessel, Michigan’s attorney general and first openly gay state lawmaker. That settlement reinterpreted a 2015 Michigan law so that it would protect religious adoption agencies’ ability to discriminate against LGBTQ parents, but that it would not extend those protections to agencies receiving state funding.
Under the new injunction, faith-based agencies which refused to place children with LGBTQ parents will be allowed to continue doing so. Jonker ruled agencies have the right to decide where and how they will distribute their services independent from the values of the state. Preventing such agencies from receiving state funding would “disrupt a carefully balanced and established practices that ensures non-discrimination in child placements while still accommodating traditional Catholic religious beliefs on marriage,” the judge writes.
St. Vincent Catholic Charities, Lansing, which does not provide services to same-gender or unmarried couples seeking to adopt or foster children, was the focus of the court case. Instead of placing children with LGBTQ parents, the agency makes a referral to other social service agencies. Jonker writes that for the state to cancel a contract with St. Vincent’s, it would be working to “stamp out St. Vincent’s religious belief and replace it with the state’s own.”
In a statement from the ACLU of Michigan, staff attorney of the LGBTQ Project Jay Kaplan expressed frustration with the ruling:
“Today’s decision requires the state to put the individual religious beliefs of foster care agencies ahead of the welfare of children. This will not facilitate foster and adoptive placements for children in need. Instead, it will allow agencies to turn away same-sex foster parents who are able to provide supportive and loving homes for these children.”
For Nessel, the fight is not over. Following the ruling, she tweeted:
“Now and forever I will fight to support the constitutional precepts of separation of church and state and equal protection under the law for all Michigan residents and all Americans.”
Jonker sees Nessel at the ‘heart’ of the case, because of her past criticisms of the law as a private citizen and during her 2018 campaign for office. The judges said he believed that she had a “strong inference of hostility toward a religious viewpoint.”
Yet Kaplan noted that Jonker’s decision will have a wide negative impact beyond St. Vincent’s:
“ ‘The reality is, St. Vincent will place kids in homes of families that they work with and if they have refused to work with same-sex couples, that means the kids that they are placing will not be placed in LGBT homes,’ Kaplan said. ‘I think this ruling could be broadly interpreted because its impact on kids and their ability to get placed with LGBT parents who are able to provide them with stable, loving homes.’ “
It is striking to compare the experiences of parents who have worked with St. Vincent’s. Chad and Melissa Buck, who adopted five children with special needs through the foster care system, were thrilled with the ruling. Melissa shared: “St. Vincent brought our family together, and I’m happy to know they can keep doing their great work helping children find homes.”
Yet while this family was brought together through the work of St. Vincent’s, many others have been denied that opportunity. The March agreement between Nessel and the ACLU was in response to a lawsuit named by those who had been denied services by the agency. After that initial settlement, one of the lesbian couples, Kristy and Dana Dumont, had envisioned a better future with more children in loving homes, saying, “We can’t wait to welcome one of those children into our family.”
Indeed the services provided by Catholic Charities and faith-based adoption and foster care agencies are essential, but to do so at the expense of same-gender couples eager to provide a loving family to children in need is neither Catholic nor charitable. For the thousands of children waiting for a safe place to grow, the opportunity to find this home with a LGBTQ family must not be overlooked.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, October 7, 2019