Bills Would Allow Adoption Denials for Religious Beliefs

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Legislators will take their first look at a set of bills Wednesday, that would allow adoption agencies to refuse services if those services conflicted with the agency's "sincerely held religious beliefs."

Those beliefs would have to be outlined in a written policy, statement of faith or other documents the agency follows.

"This promotes diversity of agencies all across the state, both private, public and faith based and we want to make sure that that diversity continues," said Rep. Andrea LaFontaine (R-Columbus Twp.), who is sponsoring one of the bills. "Because we do realize with children it's not a one size fits all approach, so why not have more options?"

LaFontaine says if the bills become law, people likely won't notice much of a difference, noting adoption agencies already function in this way.

But she says her laws are about putting practice on paper to ensure that in the future, agencies could not be penalized for sticking to their religious beliefs.

"We're worried that some of these agencies may be forced to close their doors," said LaFontaine. "I firmly believe that the more agencies we have the better, that's the way to increase and strive toward having a high adoptive placement rate."

The Michigan Catholic Conference thinks it's a necessary step.

Communications Director David Maluchnik says there are so many kids in foster care, the state can't afford to potentially pressure faith-based agencies into closing their doors.

He says without the laws, agencies could be forced to violate their religious beliefs or close entirely.

"If we want to make sure that children are put first, we need to remove government barriers and unnecessary regulations that prevent moving kids from foster care to forever families," he said.

But others worry that the laws would have just the opposite effect.

Ingham County Probate Judge R. George Economy says any agency that can turn someone away could close doors to prospective parents -- namely same-sex couples -- and limit the number of adoptions.

"It bothers me when we start bringing those religious beliefs into our laws because part of the constitution was to separate church and state," he said. "I can respect those beliefs, I can respect those philosophies but I think we can make a difference by sitting there and saying do we really need to curtail this type of assistance?"

Many Democrats in the House say the measure is downright discriminatory.

Rep. Robert Wittenberg (D-Oak Park) says he is firmly against the bills.

"Why would you make it harder for someone who's willing or discourage someone from adopting these kids?" he said. "It's about the safety and it's about the love of the kids and whether you have parents who are the same sex or opposite sex, we want them to have every opportunity to get these kids adopted.

"We don't want to create any hurdles for them to adopt these children."

The House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors will discuss the bills Wednesday.

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