Religious objection adoption laws put personal beliefs of some above needs of children

april deboer

In a March 5, 2013 photo, April DeBoer, second from left, sits with her adopted daughter Ryanne, 3, left, and Jayne Rowse, fourth from left, and her adopted sons Jacob, 3, middle, and Nolan, 4, right, at their home in Hazel Park, Mich. The family is involved in a federal court case challenging Michigan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Without a legal marriage, the two mothers can’t jointly adopt all their children, leaving custody in case of death in doubt.

There are over 3,000 children waiting for adoption in the Michigan foster care system and their opportunities to find a permanent home have now been significantly limited.

This is due to legislation that will allow adoption agencies in the state to refuse to adopt or place foster children in homes which do not align with the agency’s religious belief. Under the guise of religious freedom, these discriminatory bills allow an adoption agency to deny an adoption placement based on that agency’s moral or religious beliefs, even if the agency receives public funds. Today, against the advice of national child advocacy organizations, major professional groups and allies of equality across the state, Governor Rick Snyder signed these bills into law.

What does this mean? It means for thousands of foster children the chances of them finding safe and secure homes will be made based on politics, not sound policy.

A quarter-century of research has found that children raised by lesbian and gay parents fare as well as those reared by heterosexual parents. Major professional groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, as well as national and state child welfare organizations, overwhelmingly support adoptions by qualified same-sex parents.

Studies have also documented that lesbian and gay adults are willing to adopt the very children most in need of homes and those who wait in temporary foster care the longest – those who are older and who may have special needs – and that these families also do so at a higher rate than heterosexual adults.

In Michigan, personal convictions will supplant this research and evidence. Moreover, thousands of innocent children have had opportunity curtailed for the stability and security that are so vital for children’s healthy development.

In 2013 there were 14,615 children in foster care in Michigan; 3,337 are awaiting the permanency of adoption. More than 900 youths “aged out” of foster care in Michigan without the care of a family in 2013. The outcomes facing youth who exit foster care on their own, versus being placed with a permanent family, are staggering; these young people are more likely to flounder in society with higher rates of homelessness and unemployment compared to their peers who are adopted.

Given the ever growing need for qualified foster homes, all states should be creating pathways to increase their pool of qualified parents, not limit them. Personal beliefs should never impede best practices in child welfare. Foster and adoptive parent applicants must be judged based on their qualifications, not their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The fact that these bills have been dubbed by some as ‘conscience protection’ laws is then a significant misnomer. If we truly wish to act in good conscience towards our nation’s children, we will not create barriers to the permanency and stability they need and deserve. As leading child welfare organizations, we urge lawmakers in every state to prioritize the best interest of children, not the personal beliefs of some, when considering legislation that impacts the lives of society’s most vulnerable members.