SCOTUS sides with Catholic org that turns away same-sex foster parents

Supreme Court of the United States in Washington. (Image by skeeze from Pixabay)

(Updated with comments from Illinois and national activists at 9:45 p.m.)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday sided with Catholic Social Service in turning away same-sex foster couples.

Politico reported that Philadelphia can’t exclude the organization because it violates the city’s non-discrimination policies.

The newspaper also reported the decision for Catholic Social Services was unanimous, but three conservative judges wanted a more sweeping ruling to overturn a 20 year old decision that allows the government to enforce broad-based rules.

The decision could open the door for religious organizations participating in government programs refusing to serve LGBTQ people.

Illinois activists and organizations were disappointed at the decision.

“Peoria Proud is discouraged by the ruling in Philadelphia today,” said Cassie Lucchesi, vice president of business for Peoria Proud. “We believe that by prohibiting LGBTQ flox from becoming foster parents, we are only hurting the 25 million children in need of a safe and loving home. We do not believe that sexual orientation or gender identity are reasons for not placing a child in a safe environment.” 

“It’s disheartening to see the Supreme Court support blatant discrimination against the LGBTQ Community,” said Otis “O.J.” Duncan, board chair with Carbondale’s Rainbow Café LGBTQ Youth Center. “There is no evidence that same-gender families are any different than different-gender families, and all children deserve a loving home. This precedent opens the door to further ostracize and stigmatize LGBTQ people, and is a slap in the face during Pride month.”

Jonna Cooley, executive director of Springfield’s Phoenix Center, was angry. “This makes absolutely no sense,” she said. “Having worked in the field of child abuse for 20 years before coming to Phoenix Center, I can tell you that never once did I see a case that involved abuse by a gay, lesbian or transgender foster parent or parent – yet we investigated over 300 cases a year. Why can’t we focus on what is best for the child, that the child will be taken care of, supported and loved… regardless of who the providers are?”

Cooley asked if refusing to work with LGBTQ youth would be next.

National figures expressed opposition to the decision as well.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision reaffirms the urgent need for Congress to send the Equality Act to President Biden’s desk,” said Demorcratic Party Coalitions Director and Senior Spokesperson Lucas Acosta. “Every family is valid. Every qualified potential parent should have an opportunity to build a family. Every child deserves a loving home.”

“Today’s ruling, while only applicable to the city of Philadelphia, is a troubling sign of anti-LGBTQ+ legal battles ahead,” said David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition.” According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the city of Philadelphia can permit Catholic Social Services and other child welfare agencies in the city to discriminate against same-sex couples and other people seeking to provide foster care based on the agency’s religious beliefs and contract exemptions. Although this is not the outcome we hoped for, we won’t back down now.”

“When child welfare agencies deny service to same-sex couples, it stigmatizes LGBTQ people and could reduce the number of homes available for children in need,” said Christy Mallory, legal director at the Williams Institute. “Today’s ruling underscores the importance of governments and agencies to have inclusive non-discrimination laws and policies that protect the rights of LGBTQ people.”

Lambda Legal said there were some glimpses of hope.

“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is troubling but, importantly, it refused to give a free pass to people or agencies that want to discriminate against LGBTQ people for religious reasons and is limited to the specifics of Philadelphia’s foster care system,” said M. Currey Cook, Counsel and Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project Director at Lambda Legal. “Instead, the Court validated the City’s ‘weighty’ interest in the equal treatment of LGBTQ prospective foster parents and foster children. The only reason those interests did not carry the day was due to the specifics of the City’s contract. Because the Court decided the case on contract-specific grounds, the City can address the situation by rewriting its contracts.”

However, Cook still said the ruling wasn’t a reason to celebrate. “To get to today’s result, the Court prioritized the interests of the religious agency over the City’s commitment to equal and professionally appropriate treatment of the children in its care,” they said. “Some of the language in the decision is worrying because it fails to appreciate how deciding the case in this manner will result in harm to the children in Philadelphia’s care.”

The Williams Institute released data on LGBTQ families, adoption and foster parenting:

  • An estimated 114,000 same-sex couples are raising children, including 28,000 male same-sex couples and 86,000 female same-sex couples.
  • Same-sex couples raising children are seven times more likely to be raising adopted or foster children than different-sex couples.
  • The children of LGB and transgender parents fare as well as children of non-LGBT parents.
  • Nearly 20% of youth in foster care in Los Angeles are LGBTQ—twice the number of LGBTQ youth estimated to be living outside of foster care. LGBTQ youth had a higher number of foster care placements and were more likely to be living in a group home, two challenges to finding permanent homes.

The story will be updated as more information becomes available.