May 2019 Church & State Magazine - May 2019

Michigan Officials Agree To End Discrimination In Child-Placement Programs

  Rob Boston

To settle a lawsuit, state officials in Michigan have agreed to stop entering into contracts with foster-care or adoption agencies that discriminate against same-sex couples or LGBTQ people.

Michigan was one of several states that allowed taxpayer-funded child-placement agencies to discriminate against prospective  LGBTQ parents. The matter went to court after Kristy and Dana Dumont, a same-sex couple, sued the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Children’s Services Agency after they were turned away by two religious child-placement agencies that refused to work with them, even though the agencies were taxpayer-funded and held contracts with the state.

The Dumonts, who were represented in court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said they wanted to become certified foster parents and needed to work through one of the agencies to do that. The two said their goal is to adopt a child in state care.

Under the terms of the settlement, Michigan officials have agreed to end contracts with agencies that discriminate. But the state will take no action against private adoption agencies that don’t receive state contracts, reported CNN.

“We are thrilled that the state of Michigan has committed to ensuring that all of the agencies it hires to find families for children in state custody comply with its non-discrimination requirements so that children do not lose out on families to care for them,” said Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project.

Cooper added, “Our children need every family that is willing and able to provide them with a loving home. When agencies choose to accept taxpayer dollars to provide public child welfare services, they must put the needs of the children first.”

The settlement in Michigan came about in part because of political changes in the state. Former Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, argued that child-placement agencies should have the right to discriminate even if they are acting on behalf of the state. But Dana Nessel, Michigan’s new Democratic attorney general who took office earlier this year, disagrees.

“Discrimination in the provision of foster care case management and adoption services is illegal, no matter the rationale,” Nessel said in a press statement. “Limiting the opportunity for a child to be adopted or fostered by a loving home not only goes against the state’s goal of finding a home for every child, it is a direct violation of the contract every child placing agen­cy enters into with the state.”

A conservative legal group, the Becket Fund, has announced it will sue to block the settlement.

The issue of the role of religion in child placement has become controversial lately. In some states, taxpayer-funded religious foster-care and adoption agencies are insisting that they have a right under “religious freedom” to refuse to work with couples and individuals who fail to meet religious litmus tests.

Opponents, including Americans United, say that agencies that accept public support may not impose religious qualifications on people.

NBC News reported last month that at least nine states have laws on the books allowing for religious exemptions in foster-care and adoption programs; several others are considering similar measures.

The issue is also playing out in court in South Carolina, where Aim­ee Maddonna, a Catholic mom, was turned away from a taxpayer-supported agency called Miracle Hill Ministries because of her religious beliefs. Maddonna and her family wanted to volunteer to help children in foster care, but Miracle Hill officials turned them down, saying they will work only with evangelical Protestants. South Carolina later sought and received a waiver from the Trump administration enabling agencies in the state to discriminate.

Americans United is suing on Maddonna’s behalf.

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