Kristy and Dana Dumont were ready to give a child in need a permanent home. They moved into a Dimondale, Mich., house with two spare bedrooms and a spacious, fenced-in yard, in a school district with strong extracurriculars and a diverse community.
The couple of 11 years began seriously considering adoption after Dana started receiving emails from Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services looking for foster and adoptive families.
"When you click on emails and you can see pictures of the kids and stories of the kids, it starts tugging on your heartstrings," Kristy said.
In 2016, the couple began sending messages to child-placing agencies contracted by the state to inquire about adopting from the foster care system. Kristy contacted Catholic Charities, then Bethany Christian Services, but both agencies told her they didn't work with same-sex couples.
"It was kind of a slap in the face," Dana said, recalling the experience. "They didn't even know us. How could you say no to people who you don't even know?"
Kristy worried about the children. What would happen to the kids who were being denied the chance at a family?
"The most important piece of this is getting some information out there so kids can find permanent, loving homes," she said.
The ACLU is suing Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services and the Children's Services Agency on behalf of the Dumonts and another couple who wanted to adopt children but were turned away based on their sexual orientation.
The state hires private agencies to provide foster and adoptive services for children in the state's custody, and is aware some of those agencies have barred prospective families based on their religious objections — violating the Constitution, the suit says.
The suit, filed earlier this week in federal district court, argues that the practice is harmful to the 13,000 children in the state's welfare system, who could be denied placement with prospective families.
"We are suing the state for allowing this practice," ACLU attorney Jay Kaplan said. "It does nothing for providing loving homes for children in need of them."
A controversial bill signed into law in 2015 by Gov. Rick Snyder makes it legal for faith-based child-placing agencies to deny services if they conflict with religious beliefs.
The law states that "private child placing agencies, including faith-based child placing agencies, have the right to free exercise of religion under both the state and federal constitutions. Under well-settled principles of constitutional law, this right includes the freedom to abstain from conduct that conflicts with an agency's sincerely held religious beliefs."
Detroit residents Erin and Rebecca Busk-Sutton, the other couple listed as plaintiffs in the suit, also contacted Bethany Christian Services about adoption. A representative referred them to other agencies because same-sex couples aren't the organization's "area of expertise," the suit states. Jennifer Ludolph, who was in the state's foster care system as a teenager and has served as a foster parent, is also listed as a plaintiff.
The Department of Health and Human Services declined to comment on the suit, citing the pending litigation, and referred to state law regarding child welfare services.
The Michigan Catholic Conference, which serves as the Catholic Church's official voice for public policy, called the lawsuit "yet another egregious attack on religious faith in public life."
Kristy Dumont said she hopes the case helps pave the way for other same-sex couples being denied as foster and adoptive families. Adoption by same-sex couples has been legal in all 50 states since a judges decision in Mississippi in April 2016.
"We are just one couple in this situation," she said. "There are lots of couples out there. If it's happening to us, it's happening to others as well."
Isabel Dobrin is an NPR Digital News Intern.