LANSING, Mich. -- Governor Rick Snyder signed a series of bills Thursday allowing faith-based adoption agencies to refuse service to anyone on the basis of religious beliefs.
The law was signed a mere 24 hours after being approved Wednesday in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Critics argue the bills will allow faith-based adoption agencies to not adopt kids to same-sex couples, single parents, religious minorities or anyone who does not share the same beliefs as the agency.
Snyder said the new law simply aligns with existing adoption policy in the state.
“The state has made significant progress in finding more forever homes for Michigan kids in recent years and that wouldn’t be possible without the public-private partnerships that facilitate the adoption process,” Snyder said in a news release. “We are focused on ensuring that as many children are adopted to as many loving families as possible regardless of their makeup.”
A spokesperson for the governor's office said the bills do not deny couples the right to adopt. The legislation requires child placement agencies that decline any services to prospective parents to promptly provide information and a list of alternative adoption agencies willing and able to serve them. This prevents faith-based agencies from having policies forced on them that violate their religious beliefs, which have resulted in agencies closing in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and Washington, D.C., according to the governor's office.
The faith-based agencies will still able to receive public funds from the state to assist in adoption services.
Snyder's office also provided letters to FOX 17 sent to the governor from the Michigan Catholic Conference and Bethany Christian Services, which expressed concern the agencies would be forced to close their doors if the state's policy changed. Both agencies combined provide roughly 25 to 30 percent of all of Michigan's foster care adoptions.
"If (the bills) are not signed into law, and if statewide policy changes in a way that would force Catholic agencies to choose between violating strongly held religious beliefs or ceasing cooperation with the state, the agencies will cease to cooperate," Paul A. Long, president and CEO of the Michigan Catholic Conference wrote in a letter to Snyder.
Montcalm County couple Craig and Kevin Balyeat married out of state two and a half years ago. Now ready to start of a family of their own, they said they've been fighting for the past year to adopt a child.
“The hardest part was just finding an agency in Michigan that would help us," Craig said. "Most places just flat out told us ‘no, we don’t work with same sex couples’ and others told us ‘it’s something we’ve done in the past but we’re not really familiar with it so we prefer not to.’”
He told FOX 17 he feels he lives in a state with a government that doesn't support him.
The two eventually found an agency on the east side of the state willing to take their case. They've since been matched up with a birth mother in Tennessee who is due in mere weeks. Being so close to the end, the law signed Thursday provided a painful reminder for Kevin who said he feared everything they worked for the past year could've been taken away.
“The first thing we did was call (the agency) because the law has changed and they can now legally tell us they don’t want to work with us," he said. "It literally could have come to an end today, 36 days away from her due date, it could’ve been over with."
Craig criticized the governor for signing the bill into law, citing Snyder's recent public statements opposing similar religious freedom laws passed in states like Indiana.
“This doesn’t benefit anybody," Craig said. "This hurts two sets of people. It hurts children who want and need loving families and it hurts the families who want to have kids… nobody benefits from this.”
Regina Calcagno, the Public Education Campaign Director for Michigan for Marriage said in a statement:
“Gov. Snyder made a huge mistake today when he signed an anti-family adoption bill. It’s nothing but a license to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples and their families – and it’s going to mean more kids get stuck in foster care when they could be placed in stables homes with loving parents."
The Michigan ACLU has already said it is weighing options to challenge the law in court. The law comes the same month the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to make a final ruling on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in several states, including Michigan. The ruling will also affect whether same-sex couples will have the legal rights to jointly adopt children.