Michigan can't force Catholic charity to place kids with same-sex, unmarried couples: settlement

Reuters/Victor Ruiz Garcia
Reuters/Victor Ruiz Garcia

Christian adoption agencies and foster care groups that contract with the Michigan government won't be required to place children with same-sex couples, according to a new legal settlement.

In 2019, Michigan reached a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union, agreeing not to enforce a law passed in 2015 that allowed faith-based adoption and foster care agencies that contract with the government — among them St. Vincent Catholic Charities — to be exempted from state antidiscrimination law.

However, in a settlement filed in federal court on Tuesday, St. Vincent will now be allowed to be exempted from state anti-discrimination law when it comes to only placing children with opposite-sex married couples.

David Maluchnik, spokesman for the Michigan Catholic Conference, released a statement on the day of the settlement celebrating the result, seeing it as a victory for religious liberty.

“We are grateful that a law signed in 2015 with bipartisan support to uphold conscience rights will continue to benefit Michigan’s most vulnerable children who are served by a network of faith-based child placement agencies,” stated Maluchnik.

“Despite a coordinated and high-profile ‘sue and settle’ strategy that sought to find the 2015 law unconstitutional, Michigan’s child placement policy now enjoys federal legal protections that solidifies and strengthens the right of religious agencies to assist a range of children and families in search of permanent homes.”

Demetrius Starling, executive director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement on Tuesday that while they cannot force St. Vincent to adhere to anti-discrimination law, they will find other ways to make LGBT families feel more included.

“While this outcome is not what we hoped for, we are committed to providing support to the many members in the LGBTQ+ community who want to open their hearts and their homes,” Starling said.

“We are so appreciative of all families that step up to help these children — no matter their orientation or gender identity and expression.”

In 2015, Michigan passed a law that allowed religious charities who contracted with the government to be exempted from anti-discrimination law in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs.

St. Vincent Catholic Charities had testified in defense of the legislation, with a representative explaining that while they would refuse to place a child in an unmarried or same-sex family, they would refer that family to another agency.

In 2017, the ACLU filed a complaint against the law on behalf of two same-sex couples who were turned away from state-supported child-placing agencies due to their relationships.

In March 2019, in response to the suit, Michigan announced that it would require all groups contracted with the government to comply with state anti-discrimination law.

“This is a victory for the nearly 12,000 children in foster care in Michigan who need loving families like those offered by our clients,” stated Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, at the time.

“We are thrilled that the state of Michigan has committed to ensuring that all of the agencies it hires to find families for children in state custody comply with its non-discrimination requirements so that children do not lose out on families to care for them.”

However, in September of that year, Judge Robert Jonker issued a preliminary injunction against the settlement between the ACLU and the state, explaining that the “State’s new position targets St. Vincent’s religious beliefs.”

In June of last year, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia that Philadelphia officials cannot exclude a Catholic charity from its foster program because the organization will not place children with same-sex couples in accordance with religious beliefs.

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