ACLU ‘optimistic’ as AG moves to settle same-sex adoption case

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Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is seeking to settle a pending lawsuit against the state that challenges Michigan’s law allowing faith-based groups to deny adoption to same-sex couples.

The measure was signed into law by Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2015.

Rick Snyder

A motion filed on Wednesday in federal court and granted by Judge Paul Borman gives the Democratic attorney general a 30-day stay with an additional 30-day extension in proceedings pertaining to the 2017 case, Dumont et al. v. Lyon et al. in Michigan’s Eastern District Court.

The case was filed on behalf of the couples by the American Civil Liberties of Michigan and other attorneys and seeks to ensure that LGBT couples in Michigan are treated the same as heterosexual couples by the state’s adoption and foster care contractors.

Jay Kaplan, a staff attorney for the ACLU, told the Advance that while discussions are only just beginning, he’s “optimistic” that the parties can reach some sort of agreement that would ensure the state no longer permits its contractors from denying adoption and foster care rights to same-sex couples.

“I think the fact that the state is willing and wants to talk about how we can resolve this litigation, that’s very positive,” Kaplan said.

The complaint challenges the state’s “practice of permitting state-contracted and taxpayer-funded child placing agencies to use religious criteria to screen prospective foster and adoptive parent for children in the foster care system and to turn away qualified families on the basis of sexual orientation.”

The motion to settle the case was filed jointly by the defendants, a pair of married same-sex couples and the plaintiffs, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and its former director Nick Lyon, which contracts with a number of faith-based services for foster care and adoption services, as well as the Michigan Children’s Services Agency. St. Vincent Catholic Charities is an intervenor-defendant in the case, but is not party to the settlement discussions.

Dana Nessel being interviewed after a federal judge agreed to hear a challenge to its same-sex marriage ban, Oct. 16, 2013 | Bill Pugliano, Getty Images

The parties said that the Wednesday motion to engage in settlement discussions was “brought in good faith and based on ongoing discussions between Plaintiffs and State Defendants, such that the parties have a good faith belief that there is a reasonable likelihood that they may be able to settle the case if given sufficient time to engage in focused discussions over the coming weeks…”

“Our client agency and the plaintiffs have expressed an interest in resolving this matter and, as such, we intend to engage in a concerted effort to settle the matter,” Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said in an emailed statement.

Nessel, a Democrat, had said during her 2018 AG campaign that she probably wouldn’t defend the adoption law. Nessel’s statement served as an impetus for a GOP bill passed during last year’s contentious Lame Duck session that would have allowed the Republican-led Legislature to intervene in any state court case. Snyder vetoed that bill.

As a private attorney, Nessel represented April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, a Hazel Park lesbian couple who sought to adopt their children together. DeBoer v. Snyder became one of the cases that would compose Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 in favor of same-sex couples’ right to marry. Nessel went on in 2016 to found Fair Michigan, an organization fighting LGBTQ discrimination. She became the first openly gay statewide official elected in Michigan in 2018.

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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