Faith-based adoption agencies would be allowed to refuse to serve prospective parents, like same-sex or unmarried couples, if doing so would go against their religious beliefs under a package of bills that passed the state Senate Wednesday.
The 26-12 vote comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is on the verge of ruling later this month on whether same-sex marriages should be legal in Michigan and several other states.
Critics of the bills have derided the legislation as state-sanctioned discrimination — especially because many of the faith-based agencies receive public funding from the state. But supporters say it will help keep all options open for adoptive parents, while not forcing the agencies to compromise their principles for fear of legal retaliation or face closure because of a loss of state funding.
In the 2014-15 budget year, $19.9 million in state and federal funds went toward supporting agencies for adoption and foster care services, according to the state Department of Human Services. Nearly $10 million of that total went to faith-based agencies that would be covered under the religious objection bills.
“If they close their doors, I don’t know what we’ll do with all the children,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “This is a real threat.”
Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, quoted scripture, saying Jesus told a woman accused of adultery, ” ‘Go and sin no more.’ He called it out. He didn’t just accept it and say live however you want. The Creator is pretty clear on certain things.”
But opponents said the bills legalize discrimination against the LGBT communities, as well as unmarried couples.
“These RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) adoption bills are the most egregious example of religious conservatism run amok in our government,” said Sen. Coleman Young, D-Detroit. “Children are in desperate need of stable and loving homes. And today, we’re slashing those opportunities because of archaic, closed-minded thinking.”
Other Democrats said the timing of the Senate action on the bill is clear.
“Similar laws are being passed to push back against the eventual legalization of same-sex marriage,” Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing. “You’re once again on the wrong side of history.”
Democrats tried to get eight amendments passed that would: require faith-based agencies to provide their policies in writing to potential clients, as well on their websites and displayed in their facilities and comply with state and federal civil rights laws; prohibit adoption agencies that receive more than $500,000 in state funding from being able to use the religious objection argument; allow for second parent adoptions for unmarried couples. All the amendments failed.
The three bills passed the House last month on mostly party-line votes. The Senate version includes a requirement that faith-based adoption agencies provide references to other agencies if they refuse service to prospective parents. So the bill will have to go back to the House for concurrence.
But Gov. Rick Snyder has been coy about whether he’ll support the bills if they reach his desk. He said that the adoption bills would need further review and that he’s in favor of children being adopted by “loving families” and “loving parents.” He didn’t specify if that included same-sex couples.
He has said he will veto a Religious Freedom Restoration Act — which caused a furor in Indiana and Arkansas recently — without an expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include the LGBT community.
That bill would provide a legal defense for businesses who are subject to action by the state for refusing services to individuals based on their religious beliefs.