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Michael Porcello's picture

State legislators in Michigan have introduced a set of bills that put at risk some of the state’s most vulnerable residents: Michigan’s more than 3,300 youth living in care. These three bills, HB 4188, 4189, and 4190, are Indiana-style RFRAs, and would permit adoption and foster care service providers to refuse to place youth in care with qualified and loving parents because of the provider’s religious or moral beliefs. If this legislation is signed into law, Michigan law will permit the biases of individual providers and agencies to outweigh what should matter most: protecting the best interests of foster youth living in Michigan.


It should come as no surprise that turning away qualified and interested prospective parents does not serve the best interests of youth in care; it fact, these policies cause real and lasting harm to foster youth. Each year, 23,000 young adults age out of foster care across the nation without having found a family to call their own. Leaving care without finding permanency puts these youth at increased risk of a number of negative economic and social outcomes, including poverty, homelessness, early pregnancy, incarceration, unemployment, dropping out of school, and being trafficked. If these adoption-specific RFRA bills become law, they will only make it more difficult for Michigan foster youth to find their forever family. Michigan’s legislators should be focused on passing laws that break down the barriers preventing youth from being matched with loving parents, not creating new barriers for them to overcome.


Unfortunately, Michigan is not alone; already this year, three other state legislatures have introduced adoption-specific RFRA bills. While Florida’s bill was successfully defeated earlier this spring, the Texas and Alabama state legislatures are still considering RFRA bills that would allow adoption and foster care service providers to use their religious and moral beliefs to refuse service. The language of these state bills is so broad that it would allow providers to deny placements with interested and qualified parents for a seemingly unlimited variety of reasons. For example, these bills would allow a provider to refuse service to a prospective parent because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, have been divorced, are single, are part of an interracial couple, are of a different faith than the provider, are of no faith, or have differing political views. While these reasons have no bearing on whether someone will be a good, loving parent, the bills moving through Michigan, Texas, and Alabama would allow providers to turn away otherwise qualified parents for these and a multitude of other reasons.


These harmful adoption-specific RFRA bills are moving very quickly. In Michigan, they passed out of the State House this March, and were voted out of committee in the Senate in late April. All that remains before they become law is for them to pass a vote in the whole state Senate and to be signed by the Governor. For foster youth in Michigan waiting for their forever family, these bills have progressed far enough.


Stopping these bills in their tracks is simple: we all need to speak up and speak out about the harm these bills will cause if passed. Michigan’s state legislators and Governor Snyder need to know that the needs of youth in care are more important than the personal biases of service providers. Lawmakers in Michigan, Texas, Alabama, Florida, and every state in-between need to know that the country is paying attention, and that we choose the welfare of our children over protecting discrimination. Whether by writing letter, making a phone call, sending an e-mail, or simply telling a friend, by speaking out today, we can each work to ensure that 2015 is the last time an adoption-specific RFRA threatens the ability of a foster youth to find a forever home.


With 23,000 youth aging out of care each year, state laws, policies, and procedures need to make available more homes for youth in care, not fewer. Unfortunately, Michigan’s adoption-specific RFRA bills threaten to do just that. Lawmakers in Michigan can stand up for youth in care by opposing this harmful legislation. The thousands of foster youth in Michigan still waiting for their forever family have already waited long enough.  


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