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Faith-Based Fantasy Land

Jun 11, 2015

UPDATE:  Since this commentary was published,  the AP reports that Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law letting adoption agencies refuse referrals that violate beliefs.

Well, let’s start out today by getting in the old Time Machine and going back to early May 1954. That was just before the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools.

Let’s suppose the Michigan Legislature saw this coming, and so rammed through a bill saying that no matter what the Supreme Court did, Michigan would still provide funding for segregated schools, especially, faith-based segregated schools.

What do you suppose would have happened?

Well, the courts would have ruled Michigan’s law unconstitutional. Unconstitutional on two grounds; it's improper to use tax dollars to aid an establishment of religion, and because no state law can contradict a federal law or ruling.

I think I learned that principle in high school, but, incredibly, most members of the state legislature seem to have been sick that week.

Yesterday, they sent bills to the governor that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to deny applicants to whom they have a religious objection and still receive state aid. The governor isn’t saying whether he will sign them.

In a way, I don’t blame him. Looked at it one way, he ought to veto these bills immediately; they are plainly designed to aid an establishment of religion.

But it would also be prudent to wait till we see how the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage itself. If the justices do rule that same-sex couples have a right to marry, no agency receiving state funds should have the right to discriminate against them, period.

Forty-eight years ago today, interracial marriage was illegal in fifteen Southern and border states. People actually were arrested for marrying someone of a different color. The next day, the Supreme Court said all those laws were unconstitutional.

We don’t yet know how the high court will rule on same-sex marriage, or what the scope of that ruling will be. We do know they will rule before the end of this month. All of which makes passing laws right now that might be affected by that ruling sort of asinine.

You might wonder why our lawmakers aren’t spending their time and energy doing something useful, like crafting a responsible solution for the roads. The answer seems to be that they want to please the religious right, and that Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof is strongly supportive of faith-based adoptions, since he is the result of one.

Well, one voice that ought to be heard in this debate is that of the doctors who see young children.

The state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics urged the governor to veto these bills, saying they were not only unconstitutional, but bad because, they said, “we should not place limitations on loving families that seek to adopt such children.”

What evidence I have seen indicates that, if anything, same-sex couples make better parents than heterosexual ones. For one thing, you really have to work hard at getting children if you are in that situation; it is pretty hard to have them by accident.

In any event, adoption agencies that put any religious restrictions on who they serve shouldn’t be receiving one cent of state or federal money. There’s something called the First Amendment that should have made that pretty clear.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.