Gov. Rick Snyder signed a package of three bills into law Thursday that would allow publicly-funded adoption agencies to turn away parents on religious grounds.
Critics uniformly contend the measures are tailored to let agencies refuse adoption to LGBT couples. Republican proponents have argued they were protecting people of faith and resisting an attack from LGBT advocates.
Snyder, a Republican, had hedged on the bills for months, saying he had concerns with them and wanted to be certain there were enough options for kids needing adoption. In the end, he issued a statement that said the laws were "putting Michigan children first in adoption, foster care practices."
“The state has made significant progress in finding more forever homes for Michigan kids in recent years and that wouldn’t be possible without the public-private partnerships that facilitate the adoption process,” Snyder said. “We are focused on ensuring that as many children are adopted to as many loving families as possible regardless of their makeup.”
The governors office added the rules would "prevent faith-based agencies from having policies forced on them that violate their religious beliefs, which have resulted in agencies closing in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and Washington, D.C."
After being brought to an unexpected vote Wednesday without appearing on the Senate's daily agenda, Senators approved House Bills 4188-1490 along largely partisan lines by 26-to-12 votes. The bills all passed the House in March.
Numerous LGBT advocacy groups had exerted pressure on Snyder to veto the bills — to no avail — and quickly chided Snyder for signing the bills.
One of those groups, Progress Michigan, denounced the governor for signing the bills for signing the bills. “Children deserve loving homes and our elected officials should be held accountable for supporting this blatant act of discrimination," said a statement from Lonnie Scott, executive director of the group. "We hope that Gov. Snyder is prepared for the same amount of backlash that was seen in Indiana when they passed similar RFRA-style legislation and we encourage the people to raise up their voices in protest.”
The Child Welfare League of America asked Snyder to veto the bills in a letter sent Wednesday, saying they "would make it more difficult for children to find families."
The Republican-backed bills are more narrowly tailored versions of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, which have drawn intense criticism in Indiana and Arkansas. Like those acts, the Michigan adoption bills have sparked complaints from Democratic lawmakers and advocates who insist their true purpose is to allow discrimination against LGBT people. Proponents have contended the legislation protects exercise of faith from government overreach, protecting religious adoption agencies from being forced to close their doors to avoid violating their conscience.
Sen. Coleman Young II, a Democrat, spoke out about the bill’s discriminatory intent and broad impact on the Senate floor. “We know this is about LGBT people. But we know people are going to use this law to discriminate against people because of their race,” he said. “Yet again the majority is claiming to use religious freedom as a shield when in fact they are suing it as a sword.”
According to House Bill 4188, “A child placing agency shall not be required to provide any services if those services conflict with, or provide any services under circumstances that conflict with, the child placing agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs contained in a written policy, statement of faith, or other document adhered to by the child placing agency.”
It would also bar the state from retaliating against any agency that refuses adoption on religious grounds.
An adoption agency that refuses a parent on religious grounds would be obligated to refer them to another agency or a state website that lists all the licensed adoption agencies in Michigan, of which there are 105, according to the legislation.
Democratic Sen. Bert Johnson, at an April committee meetings, said there there are an estimated 3,000 children in Michigan awaiting adoption.
The Williams Institute at UCLA issued an analysis that estimated 3,460 adopted children under age 18 in the state are being raised by lesbian, gay, or bisexual parents individuals and same-sex couples. If the bills had been passed before those children were in adoptive homes, the group found, "these families could have been turned away by some agencies, and some of these children would have remained in foster care for a longer period of time awaiting adoption."
Senator Arlan Meekoff, the Republican majority leader, said Wednesday, “The legislation protects the valuable role these agencies play in our communities.” He said the bills do not limit adoptions, as religious adoption and foster placement agencies account for only 25% of providers.