Michigan Legislator Aims to “Protect Faith,” Uses Virginia Model to Codify Discrimination in State Funded Adoption Agencies
A Michigan adoption bill, similar to one passed in Virginia, aims to allow private adoption or foster agencies to deny perspective LGBTQ parents the chance to adopt. The wording of the bill allows these groups to use their personal religious or moral beliefs when allowing a child to be adopted, giving religion groups carte blanche to discriminate against the LGBT community.
“Advocates of the legislation say it would codify existing practice into law and preemptively protect religious child-placing organizations from repercussions if Michigan ever legalizes same-sex marriage or civil unions,” the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The bill, which is also being called the “conscience clause,” is criticized for allowing discrimination even from agencies which receive state funding. Advocates of the bill say the bill is being pursued to protect their religious freedoms.
Republican Rep. Kenneth Kurtz of the Michigan House is chair of the House Families, Children, and Seniors Committee.
“I believe this protects, no matter who it is, faith,” Kurtz told the AP. “It’s not promoting any religion. It protects. If I were John Q public, I’d be thankful for the protection.”
Kurtz plans on holding a vote with his committee about the bill this Wednesday.
“They would prohibit the state or a local government from denying a child-placing agency a grant or contract if it objects to facilitating, referring or participating in an adoption that violates the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies,” AP reported. “Nor could the government consider the agency’s objections in funding or contracting considerations.”
Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s LGBT Project, says Michigan should be focused on the best interests of the children.
“It should not be approving and fostering the ability of placement agencies to discriminate, particularly where state funding is involved,” she told the AP.
The bill is being strongly supported by the Michigan Catholic Conference and other religious groups.
William Blacquiere, president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids, says faith-based agencies play a large part in the adoption process.
“We are not opposing same-sex adoption or gay adoption or LGBT adoption,” Blacquiere told AP. “We’re just saying we have a different value, belief, etc. and there are many agencies available, including the state, who can serve them.”
On July 1, 2012, Virginia’s own “conscience clause” bill took effect after being introduced by Sen. Jeffrey L. McWaters, (R)-Virginia Beach, and being signed by Gov. McDonnell later in the 2012 session.
“The Senate passed its version of the ‘conscience clause,’ SB 349, Feb. 9 by a 22-18 margin, which included the support of every Senate Republican, along with two Democrats,” MetroWeekly reported on the story last year.
James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, told MetroWeekly only the best interests of the child need to be considered when controlling adoption and foster care placements.
“’No prospective parent or child in the child welfare system should be refused services on the basis of one factor,” Parrish said.
Parrish also told The Washington Blade he was worried for LGBTQ youths in the system.
“We are most concerned about LGBTQ youth in the foster care system, since agencies can place these children in harmful situations such as ex-gay therapy, as long as doing so is in accordance with the agencies’ beliefs,” said Parrish.
Sen. Adam Ebbin is the only openly gay legislator of the General Assembly and told The Blade “the bill only reinforces current regulations that ‘made it easier to discriminate’ against prospective parents based on their sexual orientation.”
Gov. McDonnell’s spokesperson Taylor Thonrley told The Blade the law prohibits religious discrimination.
“Private, religious-based adoption agencies are a major asset to our communities as they work diligently to find loving, caring, stable homes for children in need of care. This legislation will help ensure that these adoption agencies remain active in finding homes for these children without being mandated by government to violate the tenets of their deeply held religious beliefs in the process. This is a bill that reaffirms religious liberty and freedom, a hallmark of this great nation.”
On the opposite spectrum, Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, told The Blade she was concerned with children being denied a loving home.
“The primary and most obvious concern is that children will be denied the opportunity to be placed in a loving home environment because some agency decides for whatever reason because of their moral belief they are not going to place that child with a same-sex couple,” Chrisler said. “That’s what’s so sad about this law, that it is really denying opportunity to those kids in the foster care system and in the adoption system in Virginia, which has one of the worst records in the country in terms of placing kids out of foster care. It denies them the opportunity to have a chance, to experience a loving stable home environment.”
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