Kristy and Dana Dumont have been married for six years. They talk about how they met, where they got married, and their desire to become foster parents with hopes to ultimately adopt. Two agencies turned them down. Find out why.
DIMONDALE – Kristy Dumont had nine Cabbage Patch Kids dolls when she was a kid. She always knew she wanted to be a mom.
But, as an adult, she didn’t want to have children without the security of a legal marriage.
“Being gay threw a wrench into that,” she said.
But she met Dana Dumont on Match.com when she was 28. On the five-year anniversary of their first kiss, Dana and Kristy married in Vermont. It was 2011, and same-sex marriages were legal there.
The couple now lives in a Dimondale subdivision with a cat and two Great Danes. They bought the red brick house in February because they want to become parents and liked the district.
After the state launched a marketing campaign to encourage families to adopt foster children, Dana, a property specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, began forwarding emails with pictures of the children to Kristy.
“You start to think, life is pretty good,” Dana said. “But, maybe it’s not for some of these kids and maybe we could help with that.”
Kristy contacted the Lansing office of St. Vincent Catholic Charities in 2016 about adoption. The organization told her it does not work with same-sex couples, she said. She contacted Bethany Christian Services in 2017. They told her the same thing, she said.
“I wasn’t prepared as much as I thought I was for how much it hurt us,” Kristy, an administrator in Michigan State University’s College of Education, said. “I feel like I’m really tough and thick-skinned. … I guess I just thought, ‘It’s us. They’ll love us. They don’t even know us.”‘
After being turned away from the two agencies, the Dumonts emailed the American Civil Liberties Union, which was planning to file a lawsuit challenging the state’s practice of contracting with faith-based adoption agencies that turn away same-sex couples.
They became plaintiffs, along with Erin and Rebecca Busk-Sutton of Detroit, a married same-sex couple, and Jennifer LuDolf of Detroit, a former foster child, who says the practice makes it more difficult for foster children to be adopted.
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The national ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan filed the lawsuit on Sept. 20 against the Michigan Children’s Services Agency and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Bethany Christian Services and St. Vincent Catholic Charities, which contract with the state to serve children in Michigan’s foster care system, are not named as defendants.
The lawsuit, assigned to U.S. District Judge Paul Borman, stems from a set of laws signed in 2015 by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, which allow faith-based child-placement agencies to turn away prospective parents due to the agencies’ religious or moral beliefs.
Alabama, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Mississippi have similar religious exemptions, which often affect unmarried or same-sex parents.
The ACLU is not directly challenging Michigan’s 2015 law, said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project. Rather, it is challenging the way the state has permitted religious adoption agencies to interpret the law. The ACLU argues the law only provides exemptions for private agencies providing private services and not to private agencies contracting for government work.
“Clearly, from what we’ve seen, they’re turning away same-sex couples, and they believe the statute gives them tacit approval to do so,” Kaplan said. “And the state is permitting them to do so.”
Dana, left, and Kristy Dumont of Dimondale walk with their Grant Danes, Pixie and Penny, in the backyard of their Dimondale home. The Dumonts want to adopt a foster child, but say they were rejected by two state-contracted adoption agencies because they are a same-sex couple. (Photo: Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal)
A spokesman for the MDHHS declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
A Bethany Christian Services spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.
St. Vincent Catholic Charities referred comment to the Michigan Catholic Conference.
“Michigan’s 2015 adoption law was necessary to promote diversity in child placement and to maintain a private/public partnership that would stabilize the adoption and foster care space for years to come,” the conference said in a statement released Sept. 20. “This suit challenging Michigan’s law is mean-spirited, divisive and intolerant.”
There are nearly 13,000 Michigan children in foster care, according to Children’s Services. St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services are among the six private child-placement agencies listed for Ingham County through the Department of Health and Human Services website. The department’s Ingham County office also works directly to place foster children into families.
The Dumonts say their adoption options are limited because they plan to go through the process locally. They are hoping to adopt an older foster child and want to allow the child to be in contact with nearby family, such as biological siblings.
“There’s a lot of older kids out there who are waiting to be adopted,” Kristy, 40, said. “We’re really excited about having an older kid. They come with different excitements and different experiences and challenges.”
Dana, 41, added, “We’re not spring chickens. We don’t want to be 90 at our child’s high school graduation. We’re more established in our careers. We’re more established in our lives.”
Douglas Laycock, a professor of law and religious studies at the University of Virginia, said the plaintiffs may have a difficult time proving the state’s practices prevented them from adopting, adding that religious agencies are likely not the only available options.
He said the case for “emotional harm” might be easier to establish.
The ACLU is challenging the state’s practice on Constitutional grounds, arguing it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because it allows the state to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The ACLU also maintains the practice violates the 1st Amendment clause against the establishment of religion.
Laycock said he believed the Equal Protection challenge could be substantial, but called the Establishment Clause claim “frivolous.”
“It’s about forcing someone else to violate their conscience,” Laycock said. “There are allowances to exempt religious organizations from regulations and the Supreme Court has upheld that.”
Kaplan argues, however, the Dumonts are paying taxes to fund their own discrimination.
Last fiscal year, state and federal funding contributed $20 million to child-placement agencies in Michigan for adoption services and $52 million for foster care services, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. That does not include spending on group homes or funding funneled through the state to foster families.
A Department of Health and Human Services spokesman says it does not track how much money goes specifically to religious agencies. USA TODAY has reported that in 2014-5 nearly $10 million in state and federal funding went to faith-based child-placement agencies in Michigan.
“When you allow the religious beliefs of an agency you’re contracting with to have precedence over the welfare of children, you’re doing a disservice to children,” Kaplan said. “Kids don’t get to pick what agency is going to work with them.”
Contact Sarah Lehr at (517) 377-1056 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGLehr.
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