A case brought by St. Vincent Catholic Charities was settled by allowing the agency to continue its policy that refuses to place children with same-sex couples.
by Massimo Introvigne
The conflict between two different human rights, the rights of LGBT persons not to be discriminated and religious liberty, continues to be discussed in thorny cases in American courts.
In Michigan, in 2015, a law passed by the Republican majority allowed private child placement agencies to refuse services that contrasts with their religious orientation.
In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the State of Michigan claiming that the law promoted discrimination. In 2019, Democrat Dana Nessel became Attorney General of Michigan. She was the first openly gay officeholder in the history of the State. She settled the case with ACLU by agreeing that the 2015 law will be interpreted in the sense that the exemption does not apply if private agencies are under contract with the State.
St. Vincent Catholic Charities is one of the agencies affected by the settlement, and told it should place children with same-sex couples or lose its contract with the State. St. Vincent sued the State of Michigan on April 25, 2019, and on September 26, 2019, obtained a preliminary injunction allowing it to continue with its policy and ordering the State to continue with the contract.
Noting that St. Vincent was referring same-sex couples to other agencies, District Judge Robert Jonker commented that the Attorney General’s action “strongly suggests the State’s real goal is not to promote non-discriminatory child placements, but to stamp out St. Vincent’s religious belief and replace it with the State’s own. … It would disrupt a carefully balanced and established practice that ensures non-discrimination in child placements while still accommodating traditional Catholic religious beliefs on marriage.”
On January 25, 2022, St. Vincent and the State concluded a settlement where the State agrees that it will not terminate the contract for the reason that St. Vincent refuses to place children with same-sex couples and even with couples who are not legally married. The State will also pay $550,000 to St. Vincent to cover its legal expenses, to be paid to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty that intervened in the case on behalf of the Catholic agency.
The settlement became unavoidable after the Supreme Court on June 17, 2021, decided a similar case in favor of Catholic Social Services, a foster care agency in Philadelphia.