The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] on Wednesday to challenge Michigan’s practice of permitting state-contracted and tax-funded child placement agencies to use religious criteria reject qualified prospective parents based on sexual orientation.
The complaint, filed against Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Director Nick Lyon and Michigan Children’s Services Agency Executive Director Herman McCall [official websites], asserts [ACLU report] that the process violates the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution [LII materials].
The suit indirectly challenges a 2015 bill signed into law [JURIST report] by Governor Rick Snyder. The law permits private adoption agencies to deny placements they object to for religious reasons. Leslie Cooper, senior staff attorney at the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, contends that when such agencies are contracted “to find foster and adoptive families for children in its custody, those agencies cannot turn away families based on religious criteria, just as the state would not be permitted to do” and that “Government services must not be provided based on religious standards and taxpayer money must not be used to fund agencies that discriminate based on religion or sexual orientation.” The ACLU also argues that the practice is in conflict with Publication 225, DHHS’s Adoption Program Statement, which states that the department “will not discriminate against any individual or group because of race, religion, age, national origin, color, height, weight, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, political beliefs or disability.”
The plaintiffs include [ACLU fact sheet] two same-sex couples, Kristy and Dana Dumont of Dimondale and Erin and Rebecca Busk-Sutton of Detroit, who have been denied the ability to adopt because their sexual orientation, and Jennifer Ludolph, a Detroit resident who spent several years in the Michigan foster care system and objects to the use of tax payer funds to preclude prospective adoptive parents based on religious objections. “So many children in Michigan need homes,” said Dumont. “The state should do all that it can to make sure children in the foster care system have access to all available, qualified families.” Currently, there are about 13,000 children in Michigan’s child welfare system.
At the present time, five states, Alabama, Texas, Virginia, and North and South Dakota [JURIST reports], have enacted laws that allow state-contracted adoption agencies to refuse families based on religious objection. Mississippi has a similar law that applies only to LGBTQ families that was challenged [JURIST report] in 2015.