ACLU Sues Michigan For Allowing Anti-LGBT Adoption Discrimination

Even though Michigan has 13,000 children in need of foster homes, adoption agencies are allowed to turn away LBGT families for religious reasons.

by Diana Tourjée
Sep 20 2017, 7:05pm

Photo by Joselita Briones via Stocksy

Today, the ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit against a law in Michigan that allows adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBT families. The law, which was passed in June of 2015, allows faith-based agencies to refuse to serve prospective parents under the guise of religious belief—meaning that any organization with religious objections to gay marriage can refuse to allow gay couples to adopt children.

The ACLU is representing two lesbian couples. According to Leslie Cooper of the ACLU's LGBT and HIV project, both of these families "experienced... discrimination firsthand," from two separate agencies: Bethany Christian Services (BCS) and Catholic Charities.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, Kristy Dumont, is a state employee; she and her wife, Dana, reportedly decided to "open their home and hearts" to an adoptive child because they were aware of the need for adoptive families. And the need is dire: According to Cooper, there are currently 13,000 children in Michigan in the foster care system, and a significant portion of the child placement organizations operating in the state are "faith-based."

"The state can't afford to have loving families... turned away for failing to meet religious criteria," Cooper said. By allowing faith-based agencies to discriminate in their practices, she continued, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services "is making it harder for children to find loving homes."

Michigan is one of seven states to allow adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBT families, and that number is likely to grow: In the past year alone, Alabama, South Dakota, and Texas have passed similar laws, Cooper said. In addition, Congress is currently considering a bill (HR 1881) that would make it illegal to penalize or try to stop adoption agencies from operating in accordance with their religious beliefs on a national level. The bill is sponsored by Republican Congressman Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, who also opposes gay marriage and abortion.

Under HR 1881, any state that seeks to prevent adoption agencies from discriminating against families for religious reasons would be fined for up to 15 percent of their federal funding for adoption and foster care—ironically worsening the conditions of children without families.

According to a recent study from Movement Advancement Project (MAP), a think tank focused on government policy and LGBT Americans, there are currently 111,000 children in foster care awaiting adoption across the US. "States consistently report that one of the biggest obstacles to providing stability for children in state care is finding interested, qualified families who want to foster or adopt," the report reads. Ensuring that LGBT families are allowed to adopt children could help solve this crisis: Research shows that same-sex couples are four times more likely than married opposite-sex couples to raise an adopted child, and six times more likely to take in foster children.

Allowing discrimination against LGBT families isn't just morally reprehensible, the ACLU argues—it also harms vulnerable children. "Some say these families should just go to another agency," said Jay Kaplan, an attorney with the ACLU of Michigan's LGBT Project. "Children don't get to choose the agency they are assigned to. They don't get to say, 'Please send me to another agency that will find me a family based on my needs, not the agency's religious beliefs.'"

The ACLU and their clients argue that state-funded adoption organizations are required by law to act in the interest of children's needs. By prioritizing their own, personal religious beliefs, these agencies subvert their duty as agents of Michigan, violate the Constitution, and fail the children they're tasked to serve while discriminating against a minority population.

"We have a lot to offer a child," said plaintiff Dana Dumont. "Love, protection, caring, security—a place of belonging... We have a lot of love to give."