Faith-based agencies could refuse to participate in adoptions involving gay couples or prospective parents on grounds of religious beliefs under bills heard and approved in two hours Wednesday by a Michigan Senate committee.
The bills would also prevent governments from refusing to issue a license or provide funding for adoption agencies that exercise such objections. The committee approved the three bills 4-1 along party lines. The GOP-led House passed the bills mostly along party lines in March.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has said he fears the adoption legislation could lead to lawsuits. Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the administration will review the adoption bills.
"The governor and administration have a strong commitment to ensuring the most responsive, effective adoption system possible and we've made key progress in strengthening children's services and matching kids in foster care with permanent families. That is always the outcome we need to help meet," she said.
Snyder broke usual protocol this month by saying he'd veto a proposed state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act unless lawmakers also send him a bill extending anti-discrimination protections to gays. His comment came after Indiana and Arkansas received criticism over similar bills.
Supporters say the adoption legislation codifies existing practice and won't prevent anyone from adopting because agencies that choose not to work with prospective adoptive parents would refer them to other places.
Rep. Eric Leutheuser, a Republican from Hillsdale and one of the bill package sponsors, said he would argue granting the ability to "refuse" service is not an appropriate description, but rather, "recuse and refer."
"These bills do not change any current practice or add any restriction on who may or may not legally adopt in Michigan," Leutheuser said.
Several people who spoke Wednesday in committee against the bill said children don't have a choice in which adoption agency takes their case. Others, like Sommer Foster, director of political advocacy for Equality Michigan, said the package is "an attempt to write religious discrimination into Michigan law."
Sen. Bert Johnson from Highland Park, the only Democrat on the committee, offered six different amendments that were voted down along partisan lines. They would have, among other things, prohibited agencies from denying placement if it's not in the best interest of the child, required agencies to post lists online of instances where they would deny services and required agencies to comply with federal and state civil rights acts.
After those amendments failed, Johnson asked Senate Families, Seniors and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Judy Emmons to table the bills to allow for further consideration.
"I think it is bad form and it is bad policy" to move so quickly on the bills, he said.
Emmons, a Republican from Sheridan, moved on to voting. She said afterward that the package, which died last session, has "been debated for a few years now, so it seemed time to just keep moving it forward in the process."
Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, said there is not a specific timeline for voting on the bills.