Following the Supreme Court's decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, we are taking an in-depth look at how religious freedom is increasingly being distorted and exploited to justify discrimination against LGBT people, women, and others. This six-part series examines the resulting consequences through the firsthand accounts of those who have experienced it. You can read more from the series here.
Every child deserves a loving home. That may seem like a simple idea, one that is universally agreed upon, but the reality is that thousands of children are losing out on opportunities for loving families because child placing agencies refuse to place them with loving same-sex couples, interfaith couples, non-Christian couples, or anyone who does not perfectly align with that agency’s religious beliefs.
We have experienced this firsthand. We have been turned away from not one, but two, agencies simply because of who we are. There are roughly 13,000 children in foster care in our home state of Michigan, but our state allows these agencies to prevent families like ours from providing safe and loving homes to children in need.
When we decided to start a family, in 2016, we had already been together for 11 years and had been married for five. Dana is a state employee and received multiple emails from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services about how many children were in desperate need of a loving home. They usually included photos of children, and would say things such as: “We need your help to provide a safe nurturing home for these children until they can be returned to their families. When children cannot be returned to their homes, foster parents are often asked to provide permanent homes.”
We looked at the emails, we saw the pictures of the children, and we knew, deep down in our hearts, that we wanted to open our home to them. So we did all of our homework, and even moved into a larger home with two spare bedrooms and a fenced-in yard that was located in a great school district. We were ready to build a home for a child in need.
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In Michigan, the state contracts with private child-placing agencies to provide foster care and adoption services. We contacted one of the agencies, but when they found out that we were two women, they immediately told us that they did not place children with same-sex couples.
It was shocking and hurtful. How could an agency whose job it is to find homes for children justify keeping a child in state care simply because they wanted to turn away LGBT parents? We called another agency, only to be told once again that they would not work with us because we are both women.
Michigan allows faith-based child placement agencies to turn away same-sex couples based on agencies’ religious objections to such families. In other words, they have free license to discriminate against LGBTQ families, and possibly other potential parents. And this isn’t just an issue in Michigan: Last year, laws allowing child-placing agencies to exclude families based on religious standards were passed in Alabama, South Dakota, and Texas, and there are similar laws in place in Virginia, North Dakota, and Mississippi. And just last month, Oklahoma and Kansas enacted more of these laws.
What hurts us most is the idea that all of those kids—some 13,000 in Michigan, and hundreds of thousands across the nation—might never get a loving home because of policies like this. These kids deserve to grow up in loving, safe, and happy households, and they’ve had their stable, futures compromised by politicians imposing their own personal beliefs onto others.
Freedom of religion is absolutely important in our society, but that should not give anyone the right to impose their beliefs on a child seeking a forever home or families like ours who are coming forward to care for them. That’s why we are suing the state in federal court.
The path we’re currently traveling to parenthood is not one we had anticipated. But we’re staying the course, and we’re determined to continue pressing forward until our state makes it easier for children in need to find permanent, loving homes.
Loving a child, giving them a home, helping them achieve their hopes and dreams, and all the other things parents do, should be something we welcome for these children. We should absolutely not be rejecting qualified families from becoming a part of a child’s life.
We should build families, not create barriers for children to live happy lives or policies that discriminate against couples simply because of who they love.