Catholic agency sues pro-LGBT attorney general over adoption rules
GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan, April 23, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) -- Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is targeting a Catholic adoption agency because of its beliefs regarding marriage, according to a federal court filing.
The Becket Fund, a nonprofit law firm that defends religious liberty, is suing the state of Michigan and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of adoptive services contractor St. Vincent Catholic Charities and a married couple who have adopted five kids through the agency. In Buck v. Gordon, the Becket Fund asserts that faith-based adoption agencies should be able to operate according to their own principles.
According to a release, Becket Fund president Mark Rienzi said of the case, “Faith-based agencies like St. Vincent consistently do the best work because of their faith, and we need more agencies like them helping children — not fewer. The actions by the Attorney General of Michigan do nothing but harm the thousands of at-risk children in desperate need of loving homes.”
During the 2018 campaign, eventual state Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, vowed to champion LGBTQ rights. Last month, she agreed in a settlement with ACLU that the state would no longer give financial support to adoption and foster care agencies that adhere to religious principles regarding adoption and same-sex couples and homosexuals.
The settlement required Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to adhere to federal rules regarding discrimination in its contracts with faith-based foster care and adoption agencies. The settlement also called on Michigan to terminate contracts with agencies that either discriminate against same-sex couples or LGBTQ individuals who would otherwise qualify to become foster or adoptive parents, or that refer them to other agencies.
The office of Michigan’s attorney general contends that while the faith-based agencies have the right to decline the state’s contracts, state law requires that Michigan may not do business with agencies it believes discriminate against same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals. In its agreement with ACLU, MDHHS agreed to enforce non-discrimination provisions, up to and including the termination of contracts.
In a Detroit News opinion piece, Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, writing for the Catholic Association Foundation, criticized Nessel for failing to enforce laws allowing faith-based adoption and foster care agencies to operate according to their religious beliefs.
Nessel’s enforcement of the settlement essentially annuls legislation passed by Republicans and signed into law by Republican Rick Snyder while he was governor in 2015. The law allowed faith-based adoption and foster care agencies to cite religious convictions when refusing to work with same-sex couples who want to adopt or foster a child.
In the filing in federal court, attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote: “The State’s actions violate the First and the Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Enforcement of federal regulations supporting the State’s actions likewise violates the Constitution and federal law. For this reason, the Court should issue a judgment declaring these actions unlawful and enjoining the State and the federal government from violating Plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.”
According to an attorney for St. Vincent, the agency may have to close if Nessel adheres to her policy of ignoring that state law allowing faith-based adoption agencies to refer prospective same-sex adoptive couples to other agencies. Most adoptions occur under state contract. Without state funding, St. Vincent would probably have to cease operations.
The lawsuit was filed April 15 in the U.S. District Court of Grand Rapids after Nessel ruled in February that it would terminate contracts with agencies that supposedly discriminate against same-sex couples or LGBTQ people who "may otherwise be qualified foster care or adoptive parents" for children in state custody. The announcement came as a result of a settlement in another lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which argued that two lesbian couples had been turned down by St. Vincent and Bethany Christian Services because of their sexuality.
Having more adoption agencies which don’t discriminate =‘s more children adopted into loving, nurturing “forever” homes. Thank you to Bethany Christian Services! https://t.co/H55Gs1ZktW— Dana Nessel (@dananessel) April 20, 2019
Bethany Christian Services, which is responsible for about eight percent of the more than 13,000 foster care and adoption cases in Michigan, buckled under pressure from Nessel. According to a report by WZZM television news, the agency stated, "We are disappointed with how this settlement agreement has been implemented by the state government. Nonetheless, Bethany will continue operations in Michigan, in compliance with our legal contract requirements."
During Easter weekend, Nessel tweeted that her victory means "more children adopted into loving, nurturing 'forever' homes.” As a private attorney, Nessel was successful in seeing Michigan institute same-sex “marriage.” A lesbian, Nessel is “married” to a woman with whom she shares custody of a child.
Michigan contracts with 59 private adoption and foster-care agencies across the state, and while the Health and Human Services department wasn't able to say specifically how many don't work with same-sex couples or LGBTQ individuals, 20 of the agencies are affiliated with religious organizations. At the end of February, MDHHS was responsible for the cases of 13,489 children. Of those, St. Vincent was responsible for about 80 children.