By Kathleen Gray
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a package of bills Thursday that will allow faith-based adoption groups in Michigan to refuse to serve prospective parents, like same-sex or unmarried couples, if doing so would violate the groups' religious beliefs.
Snyder's decision on faith-based adoption came as the U.S. Supreme Court is on the verge of ruling later this month on whether same-sex marriages should be legal in Michigan and several other states.
The decision came after the bill was placed on the Senate's agenda at the last minute_and with no notice Wednesday_passed and quickly concurred by the House of Representatives.
"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 said 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."
Critics of the bills have derided the legislation as state-sanctioned discrimination against same-sex and unmarried couples _ especially because many of the faith-based agencies receive public funding from the state. But supporters say it will help keep all options open for adoptive parents, while not forcing the agencies to compromise their principles for fear of legal retaliation or face closure because of a loss of state funding.
In the 2014-15 budget year, $19.9 million in state and federal funds went toward supporting agencies for adoption and foster care services, according to the state Department of Human Services. Nearly $10 million of that total went to faith-based agencies that would be covered under the religious objection bills.
The bills landed on Snyder's desk on Wednesday after a swift passage in the Senate and concurrence in the House. Every Republican voted for the bills, save for Sen. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, who joined all of Michigan's Senate Democrats in voting against them.
Democrats also tried to get eight amendments passed that would, among other things: require faith-based agencies to provide their policies in writing to potential clients, as well as on their websites and displayed in their facilities, and comply with state and federal civil rights laws; prohibit adoption agencies that receive more than $500,000 in state funding from being able to use the religious objection argument; allow for second parent adoptions for unmarried couples. Every amendment failed.
The Michigan Catholic Conference lauded the governor's quick signature, saying: "It is critically important to solidify the State's long-standing partnership with faith-based child placement agencies operating collectively in the best interest of the state's most vulnerable children."
The liberal group Progress Michigan, however, said the swift passage of the bill was simple discrimination sanctioned and paid for by the state.
"Gov. Snyder has a history of siding with extreme corporate donors, but sacrificing the health and well-being of children is a new low _ even for him," said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. "Children deserve loving homes and our elected officials should be held accountable for supporting this blatant act of discrimination."
And the ACLU was preparing a lawsuit challenging the bills as discriminatory.
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