Adopted children and foster families told a Michigan court that religious adoption agencies are vital in helping others in situations like their own, as a lawsuit seeks to shut down the agencies because of their stance against same-sex marriage.
"Agencies like St. Vincent find homes for children who were once like me — neglected and abused. I would not have a family or a future if it weren't for St. Vincent," former foster child Shamber Flore told the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on Wednesday.
Becket, the nonprofit, public-interest law firm that is representing St. Vincent Catholic Charities, explained in a press release that Michigan has thousands of children who are in need of a safe and loving home.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which in September 2017 filed a lawsuit against Michigan for allowing state-contracted agencies to turn down same-sex couples for adoption, has argued that such policies amount to discrimination.
"When the state contracts with private child placement agencies to find foster and adoptive families for children in its custody, those agencies cannot turn away families based on religious criteria, just as the state would not be permitted to do," Leslie Cooper, senior staff attorney at the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, said at the time.
"Government services must not be provided based on religious standards and taxpayer money must not be used to fund agencies that discriminate based on religion or sexual orientation."
In 2017, St. Vincent recruited more foster families than nearly 90 percent of other agencies in its service area, Becket noted, highlighting the agency's success in finding homes for children with special needs, minority children, and large sibling groups.
"We couldn't have adopted without the support of St. Vincent," said Melissa Buck, who adopted five special needs children through St. Vincent.
"And we continue to rely on vital support services St. Vincent provides to this day. If these programs were closed down, it would really hurt our family."
Flore, who was adopted as a foster child in 2005, has in the past said that children in adoption programs have sometimes suffered abuse due to drugs, prostitution, and neglect.
"I don't understand why the ACLU is trying to take away hope from children who were once like me," she said.
Becket also positioned that St. Vincent's beliefs that marriage is solely between one man and one woman has not prevented it from placing children in homes. It explained that gay couples working with other agencies have been able to adopt children from St. Vincent's.
Michigan's law allowing religious adoption agencies to operate based on their beliefs on marriage came into place in June 2015, when it was signed by the state's Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
"There is a crisis in the foster care system. There are thousands of children and not enough homes," said Stephanie Barclay, counsel at Becket.
"The answer is more agencies to recruit and support foster families, not closing down successful ones like St. Vincent. The real casualties of the ACLU's lawsuit are the kids," she added.
The religious liberty group said that a decision on the case is expected by the end of April.