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Same-sex marriages (SSM) & civil unions in Michigan.

Part 4:
2013 SEP: House activity about religiously-
based discrimination by child adoption agencies.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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2013-SEP-11: House bills 4927 & 4928: Testimony before House Committee on Families, Children, and Seniors:

If passed into law, these bills would allow adoption agencies to receive money from the government, as usual and then to automatically reject any couples seeking to adopt a child on the basis of the agencies' moral or religious beliefs. In practice, it would be agencies sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church or by conservative Protestant denominations that would be most affected by these bills. Their religious beliefs require them to discriminate against families led by same-sex couples by automatically rejecting them as possible adopting couples.

Committee chair, Rep. Kenneth Kurtz (R) is also the lead sponsor of HB 4927. He said that the purpose of the bills was to:

"... have children [adopted] into loving homes, and there's a multitude of ways, with or without the faith-based agencies." 9

Rep. Andrea LaFontaine (R) is the lead sponsor of HB 4928. She said that the bills would write into law policies that the Michigan Department of Human Services already permit, so that a faith-based adoption agency can reject any potential adoptive parents if the placement would violate the agency's religious beliefs.

A representative of the Department of Human Services explained that they had an informal policy of steering couples away from those faith-based agencies that might automatically reject them on religious grounds. 9

Emily Dievendorf, the managing director of Equality Michigan, gave a presentation to committee members on SEP-13. She said that less than a century ago, religious beliefs would have been used to deny left handed people as potential adoptive parents. More recently, interracial adoptions would have been denied because of a mismatch between the race of the child and prospective parents. She said:

"While over 70% of Michigan voters now believe laws should not allow discrimination towards LGBT people, we continue to see our constituents used as a pawn in debates like these.

Is reintroducing this bill the best use of our time here today? Are there no greater issues impacting Michigan’s families and children which deserve our attention?

ONE crisis is real, and that is that Michigan’s children need homes and Michigan’s 14,000 foster care kids need leaders to clear pathways, not create obstacles, to safe and loving forever homes.

The allegation that these bills are necessary to protect adoption agencies is false. Beyond speculation and theory, no real evidence has been presented verifying that this is an actual concern rather than a fabricated political issue.

The only examples provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops cite examples where the church closed agencies in protest of local ordinances and state laws and not as any result of any outside entity. The Catholic adoption agencies often referenced CHOSE to limit the services offered by their charity as a political statement. Forcing the legislature to act on this issue so churches do not close down their own adoption agencies in protest is responding to blackmail; it is not making good public policy. Catering to this threat sets a dangerous precedent for the future. In fact, a visit to the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC web site shows that, in fact, despite announcing that laws had forced them to close their adoption program, they in fact still operate an adoption program. So even their claim that they have been forced to close programs turns out to be false." 1

Her reference to clearing pathways so that 14,000 children in foster care can be adopted does not really give an accurate picture of the current situation in Michigan. Although there are 14,000 children in foster care homes, only 3,000 are currently available for adoption into permanent homes.

These proposed bills appear to be examples of the shift in definition of religious liberty to include permitting the religiously-based liberty to discriminate against others, based on religious beliefs. Normally, the main target of religious discrimination is the LGBT community. However, in this case, it is both that community and the approximately 3,000 children who need a family and are available for adoption, but may have to stay in temporary foster homes because of the adoption agency's religious beliefs.

Jay Kaplan, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said that the bills would:

"... eliminate the consideration of the best interests of the child when a faith-based agency had a religious objection to an adoptive parent or couple."

Rev. Nicolette Siragusa, pastor of a Grand Ledge church, said she opposed the bill because it put the religious beliefs of the adoption agencies ahead of the needs of children. She said:

"Under these proposed bills, even fit parents with good and loving homes may be rejected by agencies based on any arbitrary criteria the agency calls a 'sincerely held religious belief'." 5,9

Rep. Tom Hooker (R) said that he "would oppose" requiring all adoption agencies to follow the same guidelines without providing an exception for religious objections. 9

According to Christian Post:

"William Blacquiere, president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, an adoption agency in Grand Rapids, testified at the hearing that the bills will not hamper any family from adopting a child. Rather, the purpose of the bills is to protect faith-based adoption agencies from going out of business by trying to force them to practice something that went against their religious beliefs.

"There is nothing in this bill that would preclude a single or secular person to adopt. ... The bills are only concerned with individual faith-based agencies and will allow those agencies to continue to exercise their faiths." 6

Bill sponsor Andrea LaFontaine (R) said:

"Our government shouldn’t be asking private organizations to act against their religious beliefs. No one will be prevented from adopting as a result of these bills.  All that will happen is that the few faith-based agencies operating in Michigan will not be forced by the state to violate their religious beliefs, and will be able to continue working to help Michigan children." 7

Presumably, there is a sufficient variety of adoption agencies in Michigan so that same-sex couples could search for and find a secular agency or a non-discriminating faith-based agency that will consider them as potential adopting parents instead of automatically rejecting them because of their gender. Still, if the bills were passed, they would generate one more example where -- in the name of religious freedom -- the state would allow agencies to exercise discrimination. The term "religious freedom." which once referred to freedom of religious belief and assembly, seems to increasingly be redefined as the "religious freedom to discriminate against others."

Many of those testifying do not appear to consider discrimination unacceptable if it is motivated by religious faith. They also seem to believe that automatically reject all same-sex couples applying to adopt is not hampering "any family from adopting a child." Others find this reasoning difficult to understand, and would prefer that adoption agencies consider the welfare of the child as the prime criteria.

Bill sponsor Kenneth Kurtz (R) said:

"In other states that didn’t write this practice into law, many faith-based agencies were forced to close their doors or violate their strongly held religious beliefs. These agencies are essential partners for the state in helping many children find loving homes.  Preserving this partnership will allow these agencies to continue to work with the state to help children in foster care and going through the adoption process while still allowing anyone to adopt in the state." 7

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Equality Michigan's managing director, Emily Dievendorf, said:

"The ongoing efforts by out-of-touch elected leaders serving in the Michigan Legislature to turn Michigan into a state which values intolerance over reason is alarming and must be stopped. Equality Michigan is proud of our members who sent thousands of emails opposing these bills. We encourage them to tell House leadership that they have an opportunity to do the right thing and kill these bills. We are committed to making sure that our legislators know that Michigan voters will not tolerate efforts to legalize discrimination." 4

As of 2014-FEB-22, these bills appear to be stalled. No vote has been held on them in either the House or Senate.

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This topic is continued in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Emily Dievendorf, "Equality Michigan’s Testimony Regarding House Bills 4927 and 4928," Equality Michigan, 2013-SEP-13, at: http://blog.equalitymi.org/
  2. Steve Neavling & Joseph Lichterman, "Michigan same sex marriage case delayed, frustrating gay activists," Reuters, 2013-OCT-10, at: http://www.reuters.com/
  3. Jim Schaefer & Tresa Baldas, "Judge says Mich. gay marriage ban will go to trial," Detroit Free Press, 2013-OCT-16, at: http://www.usatoday.com/
  4. "Amendments that ban same-sex marriage, civil unions, and other contracts," Wikipedia, as on 2013-NOV-14, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. Jonathan Oosting, "Poll: Majority of Michigan voters support gay marriage, anti-discrimination protections," mLIVE, 2013-MAY-15, at: http://www.mlive.com/
  6. "Excerpt 1 from Michigan LGBT rights survey," Glengariff Group, 2014-FEB-02, at: http://www.equalitymi.org/
  7. Gregory Varnumm "Poll Shows Majority of Michigan Voters Support Marriage Equality and Consider Ban Unconstitutional," Equality Michigan, 2014-FEB-21, at: http://www.equalitymi.org/
  8. "Michigan Legislative Report, Michigan Legislature, 2013-OCT-21, at: http://www.michiganpolicechiefs.org/ This is another accursed PDF file.
  9. Brian Smith, "Religious exception for Michigan adoption agencies sparks brief debate in House committee," mLIVE, 2013-SEP-11, at: http://www.mlive.com/

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Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > Michigan > here

Copyright © 2013 & 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Initially posted: 2013-SEP-15
Latest update: 2014-FEB-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

Full disclosure: The author has always been a left handed heterosexual, apparently from birth.

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