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Senate committee OKs religious objection adoption bills

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LANSING, Mich. -- Should faith-based adoption agencies have the option to turn away prospective adoptive parents based on their religious beliefs?

The Senate Committee on Families, Seniors and Human Services OK'd three bills Wednesday, on a 4-1 party line vote, that would allow an agency to refuse to participate in an adoption involving a same-sex couple, unmarried couple, or others if it violates the religious beliefs held by the agency.

The bills would also prohibit governments from refusing to provide funding to faith-based agencies exercising objections.

For the 2014 budget year in Michigan, nearly $20 million of state and federal funding went toward adoption agencies and foster care services, according to the Michigan Department of Human Services. Roughly $10 million of that went toward faith-based state agencies.

The Republican-led committee heard nearly two hours of testimony from activists, religious representatives as well as both straight and gay foster parents, before coming to a decision.

Opponents argued the bills do not have the best interests of children in mind, adding it will allow agencies taking in state money to discriminate.

“Children in foster care have the right to not be used as pawns for anyone’s religious or political agenda," said Sunday Koffron Taylor, with the Foster Care Alumni of America.

Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, the lone Democrat on the committee and only 'no' vote, introduced five amendments to the bill, including one that would've required an agency to make refusal reasons publicly available. All five were voted down.

“This is not about  religious freedoms, this is about objectifying a few classes of people across the state of Michigan," he told FOX 17 after the hearing.

“In this country today, people are using religion to estrange people from the system that we all need to support. It’s a bad day in Michigan when we join the ranks of the Indiana’s and those who do this kind of thing wrong and I’m disgusted by it."

Supporters, including the Michigan Catholic Conference, testified Wednesday the bills do not prevent anyone who can adopt today in the state from adopting in the future.

“The bills in front of you today are not ‘anti’ anything," said Tom Hickson with the Michigan Catholic Conference. “We need to have this legislation to encourage more options, more opportunities for children, more options for safe and loving homes, not less.”

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, told FOX 17 after the hearing his support for the bill in part stemmed from fear faith-based agencies would close up shop and cease to operate if the legislation wasn't passed.

“If they were to suddenly quit, I don’t know how we could handle the thousands of children without their help," Jones said.

"I don’t believe they’re discriminating. I believe every agency discriminates to make sure the best parents get the children, and as I saw here today many gay people have children so apparently there’s no problem with the system.”

Debate over these bills come one week before the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether same-sex marriage should be legal across the country. The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on cases from several different states, including one from a Metro Detroit-based lesbian couple.

The package of bills passed in the House last month, mostly on party lines. The bills now move to the full Senate to be considered by lawmakers.

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