LANSING, Michigan (BP) -- The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging a Michigan law that allows faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to operate according to their biblical convictions. The lawsuit, filed against the state Sept. 20 in federal court, could jeopardize similar laws across the nation and force faith-based agencies to close.
The lawsuit names Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Charities, which are not defendants, as foster care and adoption agencies that turned away two married lesbian couples trying to adopt children.
Michigan law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but laws passed in 2015 provide an exception to that statute for religious agencies. Alabama, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia also have laws providing religious groups legal cover from lawsuits by LGBT activists.
The ACLU campaigned against those laws by threatening to sue and arguing that allowing religious agencies to act according to their faith by refusing to place children with same-sex couples would reduce the number of available foster parents.
Just the opposite is true, argue the laws' supporters.
When Michigan lawmakers began drafting the religious protection laws in 2013, faith-based groups made up about 25 percent of the state's child welfare agencies. The same holds true in Texas. A loss of even half of those agencies would result in an immediate reduction in available foster families and the ability to recruit more, said Randy Daniels, vice president of Buckner Children and Family Services at Dallas-based Buckner International.
"We can't as a state risk that because we don't have enough homes for kids now," Daniels said.
Texas state Rep. James Frank, a Republican who drafted the law in his state, said the ACLU's intolerance of "different beliefs threatens to diminish capacity and therefore hurt children in the system."
Michigan's Catholic Conference also called the lawsuit "mean-spirited" and "divisive," adding that the law promotes diversity among placement agencies and does not prohibit anyone who meets state standards from adopting.
The ACLU of Michigan did not respond to questions about the lawsuit. Michigan, unlike Alabama, Texas and Virginia, has no Religious Freedom and Restoration Act providing extra legal protection for faith-based agencies.