The Republican told The Associated Press that the legislation codifies an existing practice within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which relies on private agencies to help find temporary or permanent homes for 13,000 children in foster care at any given time.
“This is about making sure we get the largest number of kids in forever families,” Snyder said in a phone interview. “The more opportunities and organizations we have that are doing a good job of placing people in loving families, isn’t that better for all of us?”
Only two other states, Virginia and North Dakota, have laws that are explicit in allowing private adoption agencies to turn away prospective parents for religious reasons.
Snyder acted a day after the bills cleared the GOP-controlled Legislature almost entirely along party lines. Opponents compared the legislation to a religious objections law in Indiana that had to be softened after a backlash.
The Michigan Catholic Conference and others have lobbied for the legislation for years, but it has gained traction ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected ruling on gay marriage in the coming weeks. In 2011, Illinois ended long-standing contracts with Catholic Charities to provide foster care and adoptions because of the group’s practice of referring unmarried couples to other agencies.
Under Michigan’s law, an agency with religious objections to a prospective adoption will have to refer an applicant to another “willing and able” agency or to a state website listing other providers.
The measure specifies that child-placing agencies do not have to provide services in conflict with their “sincerely held” religious beliefs, meaning they can decline a referral for foster care management or adoption services without fear of an “adverse action” by the state or local governments.
Private agencies — which received $19.9 million from the state for adoption services in the last fiscal year — will be able to cite the law as a defense in judicial or administrative proceedings. If they decline to provide services, they must give applicants a written list of other adoption or foster care providers.
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