Michigan Lawmakers Give Religious Adoption Agencies Freedom to Deny Gay Couples

Bucking the trend of states that have caved on religious liberty due to fear of reprisals from gay activists, Michigan passed a law Thursday offering protections to religious adoption agencies from being forced to place children in the homes of same-sex couples.

The law had broad support in the Republican controlled legislature and was signed on Thursday by Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican.

Snyder has voiced opposition to a broader religious liberty bill statewide that mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by former President Bill Clinton. RFRA protections, once non-controversial and bipartisan now face the ire of gay activists.

Some Catholic and evangelical adoption agencies in Illinois have already closed their doors instead of complying with state law that they claim violates their conscience.

The law requires that faith-based agencies give a list of adoption services that cater to same-sex couples if they can't help them do to conscience issues.

The ACLU says it will explore all options to challenge the legality of the new law based on "discrimination." Private and religious adoption agencies in Michigan are eligible for and some do receive state funds. Proponents of the bill say a diversity of adoption providers only increases the opportunity that children are adopted by a loving family.

"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 declared in a statement. "We are focused on ensuring that as many children are adopted to as many loving families as possible regardless of their makeup."

In his statement, Snyder said that last year 85 percent of children in the state foster care system were adopted, up from 70 percent in 2011.

The head of the largest adoption agency in the country, Bethany Christian Services, is based in Grand Rapids, Mich. In 2012 alone, the agency dealt with 188,000 people who seek adoptions, family guidance, and who are in the foster care system. CEO Bill Blacquiere spoke in 2013 on the threat faith-based adoption agencies face without religious liberty protection.

"There is growing societal pressure to confine Christian liberty," said Blacquiere, "to just a few areas such as our house of worship, family life, and personal devotions."

Blacquiere is concerned too about federal measures being pushed to effectively strip religious liberty from faith-based adoption agencies.

In a statement regarding the new law, which Bethany Christian Services supports, Blacquiere declared the legislation "doesn't restrict anyone from participating in foster care or adoption, but it does preserve for faith-based agencies the freedom to be faithful to our convictions."

The Human Rights Campaign, which has worked closely with the ACLU of Michigan and Equality Michigan, called the new law "extreme."

"Governor Rick Snyder has proven today that he has utter disdain for the welfare of children in Michigan and that he cares only about empowering backwards discrimination," said HRC President Chad Griffin. "This legislation keeps children in need out of the loving homes they deserve, and it sets this great state back decades."

In their opposition to the legislation Human Rights Campaign declared the law "would also allow a religious adoption agency from a non-Christian faith to deny service to a straight, Christian couple."

In June, a possible Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide could further erode existing religious liberty protection laws.

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