ACLU Challenges Discriminatory Practices in Michigan’s Foster Care System

The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Michigan today filed a lawsuit in district court challenging Michigan’s practice of permitting state-contracted child placement agencies to reject qualified same-sex couples based on the agencies’ religious beliefs.

The lawsuit was filed against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Michigan Children’s Services Agency on behalf of families turned away from child placing agencies because of religious objections to same-sex relationships, and Michigan taxpayers whose money is going toward funding these agencies. They claim that the Constitution does not permit state-contracted, taxpayer-funded agencies to use religious litmus tests in screening prospective foster or adoptive parents for children in the state foster care system, or to discriminate against same-sex couples, denying children access to good families.

Read the complaint.

The lawsuit argues that this practice violates the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution.  In 2015, the Michigan legislature passed a law that some interpret as permitting religiously motivated discrimination against prospective families by state-contracted child placement agencies. Alabama, Texas, Virginia and North and South Dakota have laws authorizing such discrimination.  Mississippi has a similar law allowing discrimination only against LGBT prospective parents..

“Decisions about adoption and foster family placements should be made based on the needs of the child, not the religious beliefs of the agency,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney at the ACLU of Michigan’s Nancy Katz and Margo Dichtemiller LGBT Project. “There are 13,000 children in Michigan’s child welfare system. Allowing agencies to turn away loving, qualified families based on religious criteria creates fewer families for children, reducing their chances of being placed in a suitable family, or any family at all.”

“When the state contracts with private child placement agencies to find foster and adoptive families for children in its custody, those agencies cannot turn away families based on religious criteria, just as the state would not be permitted to do,” said Leslie Cooper, senior staff attorney at the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project . “Government services must not be provided based on religious standards and taxpayer money must not be used to fund agencies that discriminate based on religion or sexual orientation.”

Read the fact sheet.

DHHS’s Adoption Program Statement, also known as Publication 225, dictates that the department, “will not discriminate against any individual or group because of race, religion, age, national origin, color, height, weight, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, political beliefs or disability.” The lawsuit claims this policy is not being applied to state-contracted child placement agencies that discriminate against prospective families based on sexual orientation.

“We are ready to open our home and our hearts to a child, but were rejected because we’re a same-sex couple,” said plaintiff Kristy Dumont of Dimondale, who, along with her wife Dana, was turned away by two state-contracted and taxpayer-funded child placement agencies due to their sexual orientation. “So many children in Michigan need homes. The state should do all that it can to make sure children in the foster care system have access to all available, qualified families.”

The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU, the ACLU of Michigan, and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. 

For more details on the case, including the complaint and a fact sheet, visit: http://www.aclumich.org/article/standing-for-children-foster-care-michigan