Legislation that would allow Michigan adoption agencies to refuse service to same-sex couples for religious reasons -- while still receiving public funds -- will head to the Michigan Senate.
The Republican-backed package of three bills, which passed 65-44 in the state House Wednesday, would give organizations the right to deny services if they conflict with "sincerely held religious beliefs contained in a written policy."
The legislation would protect agencies refusing service over religious beliefs from “adverse action” by the state, including limiting public funding and “discriminating against the child placing agency.”
A series of Democrats spoke in opposition to the bills on the House floor Wednesday, arguing that it is backwards to make it potentially more difficult for LGBT families to adopt while there are several thousand children in Michigan waiting to find parents.
"No matter how well intentioned, these [bills] will produce bad results," said Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo). "They put the best interest of the agency over the child, they are discriminatory ... They violate our state constitution by elevating some religious beliefs above others. ... They allow agencies to pick and choose what children they want to service [without having to be transparent].”
Others condemned the use of public funding for a religious agenda.
“You are blinded by your own faith and you are putting it before your obligation to the [state] constitution,” Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said to his colleagues. “It’s not just a license to discriminate. It’s actually writing a check for the discrimination.”
Democrats earlier responded by proposing a series of amendments that ultimately failed, including one that would prohibit declining service if it was not in the best interest of the child. Another would have compelled agencies taking advantage of the proposed legislation to state on their website whom they refuse to serve.
Supporters of the GOP-sponsored bills have said the measures simply codify existing practices into law -- and frame the bills as a way to make sure, by keeping a range of agencies open, that as many foster kids as possible find homes. In other states, some faith-based adoption agencies forced to choose between providing service to same-sex couples and shutting down have chosen the latter.
“This legislation helps to preserve diversity in child placement and ensures children are of first and foremost concern,” Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy Tom Hickson said in an earlier statement. “Solidifying the state’s long-standing relationship with faith-based child placement agencies will result in more providers, which means more placement of foster children into ‘forever families.’”
According to the Detroit Free Press, last year, about half of state funding for adoption agencies -- nearly $10 million -- went to faith-based agencies. Faith-based adoption agencies make up more than a quarter of all licensed adoption agencies in the state, the Detroit News reports.
Similar legislation has been introduced in Michigan before, including last legislative session when a bill package passed the state House but did not come to a vote in the Senate.
State law already restricts the adoption process for same-sex couples. Michigan has a ban on gay marriage, and unmarried couples are prohibited from jointly adopting. That law was challenged by a Detroit-area lesbian couple with four adopted children in 2012; their case expanded to address the constitutionality of the marriage ban and will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next month.