LANSING, Michigan — Faith-based adoption agencies could refuse to participate in adoptions that violate their religious beliefs under bills approved Wednesday by the Republican-led state House.
The bills also would prevent state or local governments from taking actions such as refusing to issue a license or provide funding for adoption agencies exercising objections.
House lawmakers passed the package 65-44, mostly along party lines. The legislation passed the House last session but didn't receive Senate approval.
Bill sponsors say the legislation codifies existing practice and no one will be prevented from adopting in Michigan because referrals would be made for prospective adoptive parents if an agency chooses not to work with them.
Democratic opponents say the bills would wrongly legalize faith-based discrimination in adoption.
The Department of Human Services currently allows private agencies to decline to provide services when the department first refers the case to the agency. Once an agency agrees to manage services for a specific case, it cannot later decide that it doesn't want to handle the case, according to Bob Wheaton, spokesman for DHS. Those rules don't apply to private adoptions where DHS is not involved.
"I feel we are preserving a successful system that is working today," said Rep. Andrea LaFontaine, a Republican from Columbus Township who is one of the package sponsors.
An amendment Democrats won Wednesday would make the package effective 90 days after it is signed into law. If the bill is signed into law, that change in the effective date could buy time before the Supreme Court decides whether to strike down state bans on gay marriage. The court is expected to hear testimony in the case in late April.
Democrats and other opponents of the bills have said the legislation is a move by Republicans to get ahead of the court's ruling, should it strike down state bans on gay marriage, by allowing discrimination against gay couples seeking to adopt children.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has expressed concerns the religious-objection legislation could lead to lawsuits.
Several Democratic amendments failed Tuesday when the bills were being considered, including amendments that would have required agencies to provide a list of the people they would refuse to serve and provide lists of adoption agencies that would work with the parents seeking to adopt, among other things.
The state had an 86 percent placement rate of children up for adoption in the 2014 fiscal year.
But Democrats say the legislation would hurt the state's adoption rates. Rep. Robert Wittenburg, a Democrat from Oak Park, said research shows lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples are more likely to adopt children with special needs or children who are hard to place.
Tom Hickson, vice president for public policy and advocacy at the Michigan Catholic Conference, said, "Securing diversity in child placement and protecting religious liberty rights for faith-based agencies will move children out of the foster care system. Without this legislation there will likely be fewer providers, which means fewer opportunities to find homes for kids that need them." The Michigan Catholic Conference has been a vocal supporter of the legislation.
Opponents including Progress Michigan said the legislation pushes an ideology that seeks to enshrine discrimination in state law.
"This bill is about politics, not religious freedom, and we'd hope that Gov. Snyder would realize that," said Hugh Madden, communications director at Progress Michigan.