The Impact of the Michigan Gay Adoption Bills

Depending on how the Supreme Court rules in its same sex marriage case, the Michigan gay adoption bills may have little impact

Last week, many in the state of Michigan were either shocked, disappointed, or especially pleased with Governor Snyder’s decision to sign three bills, HB 4188, HB 4189, and HB 4190 into law – bills that would protect the right of Michigan adoption agencies to “exercise their religious freedom” by refusing to place deserving children with a forever family, if that family comprised of a same-sex couple. Instead of providing adoption services in such an instance, HB 4188 (now Public Act 53 of 2015) states that the adoption agency must “provide in writing information advising the applicant of the department’s website, the Michigan adoption resource exchange or similar subsequently utilized website, and a list of adoption or foster car service providers with contact information,” as well as at least one of the following:

(a) Promptly refer the applicant to another child placing agency that is willing and able to provide the declined services;

(b) Promptly refer the applicant to the webpage on the department’s website that identifies other licensed child placement agencies.

Essentially, the law would only require them to have their practices encompassing their sincerely held religious beliefs within a written policy, to provide that written policy when they refuse to place a child with a potential forever home, and to either direct them to an agency that can and will help them, or to refer the potential adopters to the government website listing licensed child placement agencies.

While much of the discussion surrounding these Michigan adoption bills relates to its impact on same-sex couples in Michigan who wish to adopt children, it is possible that an adoption agency might refuse to place children with others. Would someone be denied because they were unmarried and wished to adopt? That would be entirely possible under these bills.

What makes this issue so controversial is that many of these faith-based adoption agencies in Michigan receive public funding, i.e., tax dollars, and the new law shields these agencies from a termination of their public funding on the basis of refusing to place children with potentially qualified families or individuals due to the agencies’ sincerely held religious beliefs. However, some faith-based agencies have made it clear that, despite the law, they would open their doors to all qualified families – same-sex couples or otherwise.

All three adoption laws that were signed last week take effect 90 days after the day they were signed. By that time, however, the Supreme Court would have spoken on whether same-sex marriage is legal and if the existing gay marriage ban in Michigan and other states will be allowed to continue. A decision is expected towards the end of this month. It remains to be seen how the potential legalization of same-sex marriage in Michigan may affect the applicability of Michigan’s newest adoption laws.

We will keep you informed on both the United States Supreme Court’s final decision on same sex marriage, to be issued in Obergefell v Hodges, as well as the impact it will have on these Michigan adoption bills.