LANSING (DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Adoption agencies could refuse to place children in homes based on religious or moral beliefs, according to a bill that will be considered by the state House on Wednesday.
The bill has been touted by proponents as supporting "religious freedom" of adoption agencies by allowing child placing agencies to refuse to assist, counsel, recommend or facilitate an adoption "that violates its written religious or moral convictions or policies," according to an analysis of the bill.
Language in the bill also would prohibit the state from refusing to provide taxpayer funds or grants to those agencies that choose to not participate in adoptions on those grounds.
But opponents have blasted the bill as state-sanctioned discrimination.
Similar legislation that would allow physicians and hospitals to refuse medical treatment based on religious beliefs or moral objections is still pending in the state Senate. A clause already exists in state law allowing doctors and hospitals to refuse to perform abortions based on such objections.
Two other states - Virginia and North Dakota - have approved laws similar to the proposal in Michigan, allowing agencies to refuse to participate in an adoption based on religious or moral grounds, according to the American Bar Association.
"There are some misnomers out there about what this is all about," said the bill's sponsor state Rep. Kenneth Kurtz, R-Coldwater. "I think this is fair and appropriate. Faith-based agencies are still an avenue that works and they operate based on moral and religious beliefs."
But the American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Michigan, which advocates for the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender communities, said the proposed law is written so broadly that it would allow for state-sanctioned discrimination on the basis of just about anything.
"We see some version of this bill every year. It tries to write into Michigan law the right to discriminate based on religion or many other things," said Shelli Weisberg, legislative liaison for the ACLU. "We don't argue that faith-based agencies have their own rules, but they shouldn't be able to discriminate if they receive state money."
Emily Dievendorf, director of Equality Michigan, said the bill hurts the 14,000 foster children in the state who are available for adoption at any given time.
"This was supposedly introduced to protect religious rights, but it could allow discrimination based on religion," she said. "We consider this an embarrassing mark on Michigan."
The issue will be front and center Oct. 1 when U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman hears a legal challenge in Detroit of Michigan's ban on same sex marriage and adoptions.
April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse of Hazel Park are challenging Michigan's voter-approved ban on gay marriages, which they say violates their right to marry each other and adopt each other's children. Rowse has two boys, ages 3 and 4, and DeBoer has a 3-year-old girl.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional when it comes to federal protections and benefits for same-sex couples, but that states still have the authority to regulate marriage.
Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment by a 59%-41% margin in 2004 defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Bills have been introduced in both the Michigan House and Senate that would legalize same sex marriage. Those proposed bills are unlikely to gain any traction in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.
While testimony on the proposed Michigan adoption bills - HB4297 and HB4298 - will happen in the House Families, Children and Seniors Committee on Wednesday, a vote isn't expected.
Detroit Free Press