Editor’s Note: The anti-adoption bills were not the only regressive legislation signed and introduced. The Republican majority government was busy at work on a number of issues you can read here
LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder has signed controversial legislation that would allow state funded adoption agencies to refuse services to potential adoptive families based on the agencies’ “sincerely held religious or moral beliefs.” But the self-described data driven executive has been unable to provide any evidence — except two letters from religious adoption agencies — to show the legislation was necessary.
Senate and House Democrats generally opposed the legislation citing constitutional issues. Also of concern was the replacement of what has been a standard in making child-in-care related decisions — the best interest of the child — with the agencies’ own religious values. The new laws specifically allow agencies to refuse adoption services based on religious beliefs, even if an adoption would be in the best interest of the potential adoptive child.
On Monday, Between The Lines reported that Snyder may have signed the bills as part of a broader deal to fund roads.
“What we’re being told by our corporate allies is there was never any serious doubt the governor was going to sign this bill,” said a source from a large LGBT organization. “We’re told that he traded this for a road construction bill he wanted.”
A spokesperson for the governor denies this.
Despite repeated requests for data to support the governor’s decision to sign the bills, which the ACLU and other opponents have labeled a “religious freedom restoration act”-style adoption bill, Snyder’s communications team would only provide two letters. One letter was penned by Bill Blacquiere, president of Bethany Christian Services; the other was authored by Paul Long, president of Michigan Catholic Conference.
“Yet the religious manner by which faith-based child placement agencies operate has become objectionable to those that do not value the diversity that comes with a statewide network of public and private placement providers,” Long wrote in his letter, after praising his agency’s Catholic based faith operations. “Regrettably, administrative or judicial rulings, encouraged by efforts of adversarial organizations, have led to shuttering of numerous Catholic child placement agencies in other states and cities.”
And while it is true Catholic agencies have shuttered in other locations, it has been because they refused to follow the law. For instance, in Illinois, after courts there ruled the agencies were required to follow the law and provide domestic partner benefits, the agencies simply shut down operations rather than comply. There are no reports that shifting the adoption cases from those agencies to other agencies resulted in any difficulties impacting the children.
Not unsurprisingly, the Michigan Catholic Conference hailed the passage of the bills into law.
“The state of Michigan has sought the participation and support of faith-based child placement agencies for decades, so we welcome this legislation that will solidify the relationship for the sake of vulnerable children,” said Tom Hickson, MCC Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy, in a press release on the agency’s website. “Michigan thrives on diversity — these bills will ensure faith-based agencies are able to operate according to their conscience in order to continue serving others in our state.”
“The state has made significant progress in finding more forever homes for Michigan kids in recent years and that wouldn’t be possible without the public-private partnerships that facilitate the adoption process,” Snyder said in a press release. “We are focused on ensuring that as many children are adopted to as many loving families as possible regardless of their makeup.”
That however flies in the face of the findings of the Williams Institute. The report found that 250 Michigan foster kids are currently residing in LGB headed households, and another 3,460 children had been adopted by LGB households.
In a May brief on the three bills, the California based organization reported that in the U.S. 54 percent of lesbians report wanting to adopt children, while only 37 percent of heterosexual women reported such a desire. The organization said there was no comparable data on gay men versus straight men. But making an assumption that a similar number of bisexual or gay men wanted to adopt, the organization estimated there were 35,000 LGB homes available to adopt in Michigan.
The ACLU, however, condemned the legislation and is preparing a lawsuit.
“We’re deeply disappointed that Gov. Snyder signed this dangerous legislation,” Rana Elmir, deputy director of ACLU of Michigan, said in a press release. “We are developing a legal challenge with our Muslim, Jewish, Christian and LGBTQ partners. We encourage any family looking to adopt or foster children who believe they will be adversely affected by this law to contact us immediately. The agencies that are subject to HB 4188–4190 are receiving state money to perform a public function and are therefore state actors. Agencies have a legal obligation to ensure the best interests of the child are considered during placement. There is nothing about this shameful legislation that helps vulnerable kids find homes.”
“This horrific law is an affront to thousands of households led by same-sex couples,” Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the Michigan ACLU LGBT Project, wrote on his Facebook page. “It ignores the tens of thousands of Michiganders who spoke out against it. And most of all: it harms the 13,000-plus children in the adoption and foster care system whose chances of finding a nurturing home just got a little more bleak. What’s more, now that this harmful bill has been signed into law, we know it will only embolden proponents of the dangerous RFRA bill that would give any individual or business a ‘license to discriminate’ against LGBT Michiganders.”
Progress Michigan was even harsher in its critique and condemnation.
“Gov. Snyder has a history of siding with extreme corporate donors, but sacrificing the health and well-being of children is a new low — even for him,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “Children deserve loving homes and our elected officials should be held accountable for supporting this blatant act of discrimination. We hope that Gov. Snyder is prepared for the same amount of backlash that was seen in Indiana when they passed similar RFRA-style legislation, and we encourage the people to raise up their voices in protest.”
And lawmakers also condemned the swift action to sign the legislation into law, less than 24 hours after it landed on Snyder’s desk.
“I am bitterly disappointed by Gov. Rick Snyder’s signing of the adoption discrimination bills into law today,” House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, said in a statement Friday. “Just three months ago, Snyder said he would not support a proposal allowing people and businesses to use their faith as legal grounds to discriminate. I can’t understand his action today as anything other than a betrayal of Michigan’s diverse population. Adoption agencies receive taxpayer dollars, and they shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against taxpayers who pay them. The previous law required adoption agencies to do what’s best for the child, period. That should always be our focus, and Michigan deserves better from our governor.”
U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee, who represents Michigan’s 5th Congressional District, also condemned the new laws.
“It is an absolute disgrace that Gov. Snyder has given adoption agencies a license to discriminate against loving Michigan families. Right now, there are thousands of children in the state’s foster care system waiting to be placed in nurturing homes. We should be focused on finding all of these children a permanent place to live, not denying some Michigan families the ability to adopt a child simply because they are gay. That is wrong and simply cruel,” Kildee said in a written statement Friday. “The people of Michigan want to live in a state where all loving families are accepted and treated with dignity and respect. Sadly, in signing these dangerous and discriminatory bills today, Gov. Snyder has enshrined discrimination in our laws and taken our state in the wrong direction.”