- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Melissa Buck of Holt, Michigan, keeps track of her growing family by tattooing her arm, and she might need more ink — only if the adoption agency she and her husband, Chad, use manages to remain open.

“I have birth parents who may have more children that could come into our care,” said Ms. Buck, who is raising five adopted children, ranging in age from 5 to 13. “We’ve been surprised before.”

But there’s no guarantee that St. Vincent Catholic Charities — the Holts’ adoption agency in nearby Lansing — will survive after Michigan officials announced last month the state no longer will contract with agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ parents.

The Diocese of Lansing soon may join those of Boston, Buffalo and Washington, D.C., in shuttering its adoption and foster care services rather than change its position on gay parenting amid new state rules banning discrimination against LGBTQ couples.

Ms. Buck said she isn’t Catholic but supports the values of her adoption agency.

“They’ve got the best reputation in the area,” she told The Washington Times.

The diocese is fighting back. On Monday, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, the Bucks and a former St. Vincent adoptee-turned-counselor filed a lawsuit against federal and state officials over the new non-discrimination rule.

State Attorney General Dana Nessel, who is named in the lawsuit, announced in March a ban on public dollars going to adoption agencies that would disqualify a couple from adoption on the basis of sexual orientation.

“Faith-based agencies like St. Vincent consistently do the best work because of their faith, and we need more agencies like them helping children — not fewer,” said Mark Rienzi, president of religious liberty law firm Becket, whose attorneys filed the lawsuit.

Catholic adoption agencies recently have been a key casualty in state legislative initiatives and federal regulations aiming to expand civil protections for LGBTQ people seeking to adopt. Diocesan agencies in Illinois; Boston; Washington, D.C.; and Buffalo, New York, have ended their adoption and foster care placement services rather than yield to anti-discrimination laws.

Mississippi in 2000 was the last state to ban adoption by same-sex couples, but a federal judge overturned that stricture in 2016.

Ten states, including Kansas and South Carolina, allow faith-based adoption agencies to decline to work with same-sex couples in accordance with “sincere” religious beliefs against LGBTQ behavior.

Michigan had a religious exemption, but a lawsuit brought by a same-sex couple recently ended in a settlement that generated the new rule.

“Discrimination in the provision of foster care case management and adoption services is illegal, no matter the rationale,” Ms. Nessel, the attorney general, said last month in announcing the settlement.

She cited a regulation, finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration, that ordered child welfare agencies to comply with anti-discrimination rules — including those protecting “sexual orientation and gender identity” — in order to receive federal dollars.

Each year, nearly $6 billion in federal funds flows into the states for child welfare services, including foster and adoption placement. Private, religious and charitable adoption agencies have long acted as subcontractors for a state’s human services department, which reimburses the agencies for finding homes for children.

Many faith-based groups are considering opting out of the business of child placement.

“[D]espite a clear need for more foster care and adoptive homes, the State of Michigan has decided to force St. Vincent and numerous other faith-based agencies like it — serving hundreds of children across the State — to choose between following their faith and closing down a vital ministry,” the lawsuit states.

Two Republicans in Congress — Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania — have introduced legislation to reverse the Obama-era ruling. They say their proposed Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2019 will keep the trust with organizations that who have long found homes for children.

“The government should not be in the business of forcing faith-based child welfare providers to abandon their sincerely held religious beliefs, especially at the expense of finding a new home for a child in need,” Mr. Enzi said in a statement.

So far, the bill — like its predecessor in the last Congress — has gotten stuck in committee.

Ms. Buck said she’s unsure if she’ll be able to grow her family if St. Vincent shutters its adoption services.

“In our group of foster and adoptive parents, we rely on them so much,” she said. “They’re not just there [saying], ‘We’re going to place [a kid with you and then] we’re out of your lives.’ They’re a little different than most agencies.”

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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