Religious-based adoption agencies that receive state taxpayer funding in Michigan can continue to deny placing children in LGBTQ+ homes after a recent federal judge’s opinion.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker issued a preliminary injunction on Sept. 26 that temporarily stopped a new state law that would have required adoption agencies with state contracts to work with LGBTQ+ families regardless of their religious beliefs.

The case centers on St. Vincent Catholic Charities, who did not want to place children with LGBTQ+ families based on their religions belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The Republican Michigan legislature passed a law in 2015 saying a state-funded adoption agency, like St. Vincent, could decline to place children with LGBTQ+ families due to religious beliefs as long as the agency referred the families to other agencies.

Dana Nessel
Dana Nessel

When Dana Nessel, who is openly LGBTQ+, ran for state attorney general in 2018, she called the 2015 law “indefensible” and said if elected she could not justify using taxpayer money to defend the discriminatory law supported by “hate-mongers” who disliked gay people, according to Jonker’s opinion.

After winning and taking office, Nessel settled a lawsuit and told St. Vincent and other religious agencies they must either sever their state contracts or agree to place children with LGBTQ+ families regardless of their religious beliefs.

That led St. Vincent and others to sue the state, leading to Jonker’s preliminary injunction.

“What St. Vincent has not done and will not do is give up its traditional Catholic belief that marriage as instituted by God is for one man and one woman,” Jonker wrote in his opinion.

“After [Nessel’s] election, she … re-interpreted the 2015 law; and put St. Vincent in the position of either giving up its belief or giving up its contract with the State,” the judge added. “That kind of targeted attack on a sincerely held religious belief is what calls for strict scrutiny in this case and supports entry of a preliminary injunction preserving the status quo while the case is fully litigated.”

Nessel shot back at the opinion on Twitter, “Now and forever I will fight to support the constitutional precepts of separation of church and state and equal protection under the law for all Michigan residents and all Americans.”

Becket Law, representing St. Vincent, praised Jonker’s opinion in a press release.

“Our nation is facing a foster care crisis, and we are so glad that Michigan’s foster children will continue having all hands on deck to help them find loving forever homes,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket. “ … [B]ut there is still work to be done to ensure that faith-based agencies can contribute to ending our nation’s foster care crisis.”

Jay Kaplan, LGBT Project staff attorney of the ACLU of Michigan, warned the opinion “requires the state to put the individual religious beliefs of foster care agencies ahead of the welfare of children.”

“This will not facilitate foster and adoptive placements for children in need. Instead, it will allow agencies to turn away same-sex foster parents who are able to provide supportive and loving homes for these children,” Kaplan said in a statement.