(CN) – A federal judge ruled Thursday that Christian foster families may intervene in same-sex couples’ challenge of a Michigan policy allowing state-funded private adoption agencies to turn away gay and lesbian prospective parents for religious reasons.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services contracts out public adoption and foster care services to independent private agencies and pays them with taxpayer funds to perform this government function.
The state also partners with faith-based organizations, and permits them to use religious criteria to screen prospective foster and adoptive parents for children in the foster care system.
Two Michigan same-sex couples – Kristy and Dana Dumont and Erin and Rebecca Busk-Sutton – are married, committed and gainfully employed, but they were repeatedly turned away by private adoption agencies licensed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, according to their lawsuit filed in September by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Same-sex couples aren’t our area of expertise” was the response the Busk-Suttons say they received when they tried to adopt a child from Michigan’s foster care system through Bethany Christian Services, a state-contracted agency near their home in Detroit.
The Dumonts received a similar response from St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing, the lawsuit states.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Paul Borman granted a current foster family’s motion to intervene in the case.
Chad and Melissa Buck say they will be unable to adopt future siblings of their five adopted children if their agency, St. Vincent, was forced to close because of the loss of state funding.
“The Bucks have demonstrated, at least for purposes of the court’s consideration of a motion under Rule 24, that they have a substantial interest in continuing to work with the individuals at St. Vincent who have a deep institutional knowledge of their family situation,” Borman said.
In a statement through Becket, a firm representing the Buck family and St. Vincent, Melissa Buck said, “St. Vincent brought my family together and continues to be an invaluable resource for us. If it is shut down, it will take away essential support we rely on right now.”
The Dumont and Busk-Sutton couples seek a declaration that Michigan’s practice of allowing state-contracted, taxpayer-funded agencies to disqualify prospective families headed by same-sex couples based on religious beliefs violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.