Michigan sued for rejecting same-sex foster care, adoptions

(Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union sued Michigan’s health and children’s services agencies in federal court on Wednesday, saying the state’s foster care and adoption system discriminates against same-sex couples on religious grounds.

The suit was filed against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Michigan Children’s Services Agency in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU and ACLU of Michigan on behalf of Michigan taxpayers and families turned away by state-contracted and taxpayer-funded child placement agencies because of the agencies’ religious beliefs, the ACLU said.

The ACLU of Michigan said it was the first such legal challenge filed in the state.

“We are ready to open our home and our hearts to a child, but were rejected because we’re a same-sex couple,” plaintiff Kristy Dumont, who with her wife Dana was denied by two child placement agencies, said in the ACLU’s statement.

The U.S. Constitution does not allow 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, the ACLU said.

The ACLU said in the lawsuit it was seeking an order barring the state from providing taxpayer funding to private child placement agencies that exclude same-sex couples from becoming foster or adoptive parents or otherwise using religious criteria in screening.

It also asked the court to order the state to ensure lesbian and gay couples are treated the same as heterosexual people.

State department of health and human services spokesman Bob Wheaton said Wednesday in an email the agency was unaware of the lawsuit, and generally does not comment on litigation.

The intention for most of the 13,000 children in Michigan’s foster care system is for them to return to their families after the family, child or both receive services and the home is determined to be safe, Wheaton said. About 350 of those children need to be adopted, he said.

About two weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide in June 2015, Michigan approved legislation that allows a child placing agency to decline services if circumstances conflict with the agency’s religious beliefs, according to the bill.

Alabama, Texas, Virginia, North and South Dakota and Mississippi also have laws authorizing such discrimination, the ACLU said.