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Under Pressure, Michigan Adoption Agency Ends Antigay Discrimination

parents with child

Bethany Christian Services agreed to place children with LGBTQ parents in order to maintain its state contract.

A faith-based adoption and foster care agency in Michigan has agreed to place children with LGBTQ parents in order to maintain its contract with the state -- reportedly after employees threatened to walk out.

Bethany Christian Services, based in Grand Rapids, announced Thursday that it will comply with the settlement recently reached by Attorney General Dana Nessel, Michigan's first out statewide elected official, with two lesbian couples who had sued in 2017 over being rejected by child placement agencies that cited religious objections. A state law passed in 2015 exempts faith-based agencies from providing services that conflict with their beliefs, but under the settlement, this law will not apply to placements made under state contract for children referred by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

"Bethany will continue operations in Michigan, in compliance with our legal contract requirements. The mission and beliefs of Bethany Christian Services have not changed," the agency announced in a statement first reported by WGVU, a Grand Rapids public radio station. Bethany officials did express disappointment with the settlement and said the policy change, approved by the group's board of directors, would not apply to private placements or to its operations in other states.

A Bethany employee in Michigan had told WGVU that several workers had vowed to walk out if the agency did not change its discriminatory policy.

Another faith-based agency has had a different reaction to the settlement. St. Vincent Catholic Charities, based in Lansing, challenged it in a federal lawsuit filed last week, alleging violation of its First Amendment rights and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The suit names Nessel and other public officials.

About 90 agencies receive state funds to handle adoption and foster care placements. Bethany is one of the larger providers, responsible for about 8 percent of the placements made under state contract, the Detroit Free Press reports. St. Vincent handles only about 1 percent.

Michigan HHS spokesman Bob Wheaton said the department was pleased with Bethany's decision, as the state will "be able to continue its long-standing partnership with Bethany in providing services to children and families," according to the Free Press. Nessel lauded the decision in a tweet, saying it will result in "more children adopted into loving, nurturing 'forever' homes. Thank you to Bethany Christian Services."

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