Michigan’s religious adoption agencies face controversy over LGBT discrimination

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Faith-based adoption agencies in Michigan are allowed to deny same-sex couples access to adoption. LGBT advocacy groups call this blatant discrimination.

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Andrew McAuliff is a student at Michigan State University. McAuliff is a gay man concerned how the new president-elect will affect his future ability to have a family and other LGBT people.

The president-elect Trump’s lack of policy for the LGBT community may affect McAuliff’s future to one day adopt or foster children if he chooses.

Three-thousand children in foster care in Michigan are up for adoption. According to Jay Kaplan, staff attorney from American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, most publicly funded Michigan adoption agencies holding these children are faith-based. In 2015, Gov. Rick Snyder passed a law allowing faith-based adoption agencies the right to deny same-sex couples from adopting. With a looming presidential and state election, the LGBT community voices concern over adoption laws.

Michigan is one of four states in the U.S. that gives religious adoption agencies the freedom to reject hopeful same-sex couples from adopting. According to a ratings scale by Movement Advancement Project, an independent think-tank on LGBT policy issues, Michigan has one of the lowest ratings in the country for LGBT policy — scoring a four out of 38.5.

The decision for passing this law was due to the religious adoption agencies’ concern that they were compromising their religion if they had to assist same-sex couples with adoption.

One year later, LGBT advocacy and human rights groups are pushing for change in Michigan. Kaplan said this law is not an accurate representation of Michigan taxpayers’ beliefs and needs to be changed.

LGBT adoption advocacy

One of the biggest contributors to Michigan’s low Movement Advancement Project  score is the lack of non-discrimination laws, particularly in adoption and foster care.

“This legally permits them to refuse to work with same-sex couples,” Kaplan said. “Even if it violates civil rights or harms children.”

Kaplan has heard from same-sex couples who have been denied service from faith-based adoption agencies.For some, the only adoption agencies in their respective counties are faith-based. Foster care children are not always allowed to leave the county, creating a problem for the child trying to be adopted and the couple trying to adopt.

Religious freedom

Faith-based adoption agencies presented this bill to  Reps. Andrea Lafontaine and Harvey Santana.

“If we lose those faith-based agencies we would not be able to put many of these kids into homes,” Rep. Kathy Crawford said, who voted for the bill. “As long as there are avenues that address [same-sex couples’] needs, I don’t see why there is a problem.”

These faith-based agencies are required to recommend same-sex couples to other agencies that will accept them to adopt. Since most of the agencies in Michigan are faith-based, this makes adoption for same-sex couples extremely difficult, according to Kaplan.

Bethany Christian Services is a faith-based adoption agency in Lansing, Mich. that reserves the right to deny same-sex couples adoption. Its extensive potential parent survey includes: obtaining one recommendation from a couple’s pastor (a couple is required to be of Christian faith), three recommendations from non-related friends, one from an employer and an extensive background check.

“The only families that we feel that we can approve under our written statement are single families or heterosexual married couples,” Krista Stevens, domestic infant adoption supervisor at Bethany Christian Services, said.

Although Bethany Christian Services does not allow same-sex couples to adopt, if a pregnant mother requests for her baby to go to a same-sex couple, they will work with other adoption agencies to place the baby with a same-sex couple.

“If I get a couple of the same gender, I would absolutely have a conversation with them about what they are looking for and then give them other agencies that I would recommend that they work with,” Stevens said.

Religious organizations still argue that they do not have enough religious freedom. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is currently sitting in the state legislature, is another means for religious organizations to have more religious freedom in other aspects of the law. Many LGBT advocates including Kaplan and Meg Bauer, community engagement director at Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center , argues that the Constitution’s First Amendment already provides enough religious freedom to these organizations.

“The [RFRA] protects people based on race, religion, age, height, weight and marital status— everything but sexual orientation and gender identity,” Bauer said.

Supreme court decision impacts in Michigan: A year later

The 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing gay marriage in the U.S. was a large accomplishment for the LGBT community.

The narrative of LGBT rights has also largely changed in the U.S. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 63 percent of Americans think same-sex couples should have legal rights to adopt.

However, states like Michigan, Virginia, Mississippi and North Dakota have imposed laws that critics say could be to undermine same-sex marriage legalization.

Kaplan said that this religious freedom for adoption agencies legislation, which happened prior to Obergefell v. Hodges (law legalizing same-sex marriage), was a preemptive strike. Since taxpayer money is going towards these agencies, discussion over whether this is a correct representation of the taxpayers is prevalent.

“Our state is taking a position on this issue,” Kaplan said.

The legalization of gay marriage nationwide has still not provided complete equal rights to LGBT people in Michigan. Issues of tax status, employee benefits and housing discrimination are still facing the LGBT community in Michigan.

The legalization of gay marriage for some lesbian women is still not enough change for same-sex couples.

“I have talked to a lot of women who would say ‘I am actually not interested in the institution of marriage because of what it has historically meant,’” Bauer said.

2016 election to affect LGBT community

The new president-elect Donald Trump will have a major influence in how LGBT rights are handled. Since cases about LGBT couples being denied adoption is likely to go to the Supreme Court, a new justice will have a heavy impact on these couples.

The Republican Party protects the religious beliefs of conservative Christians. The platform states that, “Marriage between one man and one woman is the foundation for a free society and has for millennia been entrusted with rearing children and instilling cultural values.”

The platform currently supports the First Amendment Defense Act, introduced to Congress in June 2015. The act protects people who believe marriage is between a man and a woman against discrimination and government overreach.

LGBT rights are issues mostly determined at the state level. The Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center works to engage and inform the community about LGBT rights and encouraged people to vote down the ballot for local change.

“The LGBT community better come out in droves and we will be doing everything we can,” Bauer said prior to the election.

Kaplan is working to gather more information from same-sex couples trying to adopt in order to hopefully appeal or amend the religious freedom law for adoption agencies.

The law is currently a “slippery slope” towards more discriminatory laws that use religious freedom as a mask, according to both Kaplan and Bauer.