The state of Michigan today announced that it will require all state-contracted child welfare agencies to comply with its non-discrimination requirements and accept all qualified families, including same-sex couples. This announcement comes as part of a settlement in Dumont v. Gordon, a case brought by two same-sex couples who were turned away from state-contracted agencies because those agencies had religious objections to working with these families.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of the couples, arguing that the state of Michigan was violating the Constitution by permitting agencies to use religious criteria to exclude prospective foster and adoptive families.
Michigan, like most states, contracts with private agencies to help find families for children in the foster care system and pays them from taxpayer funds. Most agencies — including most faith-based agencies — follow professional child welfare standards and accept all qualified families. Some agencies have been excluding families based on the agency’s religious objection to same-sex couples. Today, the state of Michigan makes clear that agencies may not refuse to work with qualified same-sex couples.
Elsewhere in the country, some states are moving in the opposite direction. Bills pending in Arkansas and Tennessee would authorize state-contracted child welfare agencies to exclude any families to whom they have a religious objection. Such laws have been passed in a number of states in recent years. In February, the United States Department of Health and Human Services granted a waiver from federal non-discrimination regulations to South Carolina to allow a foster care agency there to limit eligibility to Protestant Christians and continue turning away Catholic and Jewish families.
Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, had the following comment about Michigan’s settlement of the Dumont lawsuit:
“This is a victory for the nearly 12,000 children in foster care in Michigan who need loving families like those offered by our clients. We are thrilled that the state of Michigan has committed to ensuring that all of the agencies it hires to find families for children in state custody comply with its non-discrimination requirements so that children do not lose out on families to care for them. Our children need every family that is willing and able to provide them with a loving home. When agencies choose to accept taxpayer dollars to provide public child welfare services, they must put the needs of the children first.”
Kristy and Dana Dumont, plaintiffs in the case, had the following response:
“We are so happy that for same-sex couples in Michigan who are interested in fostering or adopting, opening their hearts and homes to a child no longer comes with the risk of being subjected to the discrimination we experienced. We are hopeful that this will mean more families for children, especially those who have been waiting years for a family to adopt them. And we can’t wait to welcome one of those children into our family.”
This statement is online here.