Metro Weekly

Michigan Gov. Snyder signs bills allowing adoption agencies to discriminate

Conscience clause-style law allows placement agencies to refuse prospective parents based on religious objections

Gov. Rick Snyder - Credit: Michigan Municipal League/flickr

Gov. Rick Snyder – Credit: Michigan Municipal League/flickr

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) on Thursday signed a package of three bills that will allow adoption or child placement agencies to refuse to serve prospective parents, including same-sex couples, by claiming placing children in a particular home would violate their religious convictions. 

In a surprise move, the Michigan Senate — with no prior notice — placed the three bills, which had previously passed the House of Representatives, on its agenda Wednesday. All three passed on a mostly party-line vote in the upper chamber, with only one Republican voting against the measures. The bills are not specifically targeted at same-sex couples, but are written broadly so that any placement agency would be able to claim a religious objection to any prospective parent based on a variety of factors, including age, disability, marital status or religion. 

Supporters insist that prospective adoptive or foster parents will still have options to be able to raise and adopt children, but say the legislation is necessary to protect faith-based adoption agencies from having to compromise their religious principles for fear of being sued or from deciding to close because of a decision to forego state funding, as occurred in Massachusetts, Illinois, California and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, critics say that the measures constitute discrimination and should not be tolerated, especially since many child placement agencies already receive state funding.

 

“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 statement as he signed the bills into law. He also noted that the three bills were bipartisan, sponsored by two Republicans and one Democrat from the House of Representatives, and added that the bills require child placement agencies that decline any services to prospective parents to provide those parents with a list of alternative adoption agencies willing to serve them.

“We are focused on ensuring that as many children are adopted to as many loving families as possible regardless of their makeup,” Snyder said. 

Opponents of this type of legislation, often known as “conscience clause” legislation, are decrying Snyder’s decision to sign the bills into law, noting that Snyder previously promised that he would not sign a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into effect in Michigan after neighboring state Indiana received criticism following the passage of a RFRA-style law allowing businesses or individuals to discriminate against LGBT people or same-sex couples.

“Governor Rick Snyder has proven today that he has utter disdain for the welfare of children in Michigan and that he cares only about empowering backwards discrimination,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “This legislation keeps children in need out of the loving homes they deserve, and it sets this great state back decades.”

“Gov. Rick Snyder today enshrined discrimination against LGBT people that will limit the pool of stable families available to the state’s most vulnerable children,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a press release. “…[Snyder] failed to recognize the discriminatory intent behind HB 4188, 4189 and 4190 and its unfortunate consequences.”

The ACLU also raised the very likely possibility of a lawsuit challenging the newly enacted law.

“We’re deeply disappointed that Governor Snyder signed this dangerous legislation,” said Rana Elmir, the deputy director of the ACLU of Michigan. “We are developing a lawsuit 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 and are therefore agents of the state.

“Agencies have a legal obligation to ensure the best interests of the child are considered during placement,” Elmir continued. “There is nothing about this shameful legislation that helps vulnerable kids find homes.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com