Religious-based adoption agencies can once again refuse services to same-sex couples and still receive state funding after a federal court ruling Thursday.
District Judge Robert Jonker in Grand Rapids, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, ordered in Buck v. Gordon that child welfare agency St. Vincent Catholic Charities can’t be blocked from state funding even though it refuses to work with LGBTQ couples who wish to become foster parents.
In March, Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan settled a 2017 lawsuit claiming illegal discrimination against a same-sex couple who was denied adoption services through the agency.
The ACLU had filed the lawsuit on behalf of Kristy and Dana Dumont and Erin and Rebecca Busk Sutton after they were rejected to adopt children out of Michigan’s foster care system by religious agencies Bethany Christian Services and St. Vincent Catholic Charities. Both couples filed lawsuits against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
The settlement of that case resulted in the DHHS agreeing to “maintain federally required non-discrimination provisions in its foster care and adoption agency contracts.”
Foster parents Melissa and Chad Buck of Holt, foster child Shamber Flore and St. Vincent Catholic Charities then sued the state over that rule, represented by Becket Law, a national law firm specializing in “religious liberty” cases. Becket represented St. Vincent in the original suit, as well.
Jonker said the outcome of Nessel’s lawsuit conflicted with state law, existing contracts and established practice.
The ACLU and the Dumonts have filed an intervening complaint in Buck v. Gordon.
“[The] decision requires the state to put the individual religious beliefs of foster care agencies ahead of the welfare of children,” said Jay Kaplan, LGBT Project staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. “This will not facilitate foster and adoptive placements for children in need. Instead, it will allow agencies to turn away same-sex foster parents who are able to provide supportive and loving homes for these children.”
Nessel, who has been a long-time advocate for LGBTQ family rights and same-sex marriage, responded to the ruling on Twitter.
“Now and forever I will fight to support the constitutional precepts of separation of church and state and equal protection under the law for all Michigan residents and all Americans,” she tweeted.
A spokesperson in Nessel’s office said they are reviewing the decision with their client to determine next steps.