Catholic Adoption Agencies Suing Illinois For Special Right to Turn Away Gay Couples
Catholic charities that offer adoption and foster care services in the dioceses of Springfield, Peoria and Joliet have gone to court to request an immediate injunction protecting them from state laws so they can continue to deny same-sex couples the right to adopt.
In a complaint filed Tuesday in Sangamon County Circuit Court, the three Catholic Charities agencies asked a judge for a temporary restraining order and injunction that would prevent the Illinois attorney general and state Department of Children and Family Services from enforcing new anti-discrimination policies that accommodate civil unions, which went into effect last week.
Catholic Charities’ complaint cites a letter from the attorney general in March demanding documents for an inquiry into whether state laws prohibit religious agencies from considering sexual orientation and marital status as factors in foster care and adoption.
The lawsuit asks a judge to resolve the question “to avert an imminent risk of irreparable harm to many thousands of vulnerable and needy children, families and adults across the state of Illinois and to avoid the collapse of a critical network of social service agencies at a time when our state’s budget crisis already has stretched vital social services resources to the breaking point.”
Catholic Charities asked the court’s permission to refer civil union couples to other child welfare agencies while exclusively granting licenses to married couples and singles living alone.
This is after Illinois’ civil unions law came into effect on June 1. The law grants same-sex couples all the state-sanctioned rights of marriage, including the right to jointly adopt. The law does not give special dispensation to Catholic agencies that run adoption services on behalf of the state — that is to say, those that receive public money.
Lawyers for the agencies, all of which are publicly funded, argue that religious freedom of conscience must be preserved and that there are adequate adoption services elsewhere to cater for all prospective parents — they just want a special exemption to the law so that they can turn away same-sex couples per their beliefs.
Following the signing of the civil unions law, the state administration began and is still looking into whether adoption services receiving public money can, under the state’s human rights act, be allowed to discriminate. This lawsuit has been characterized as a preemptive move against that.
On the same day that the civil unions law came into effect, the Catholic Charities of Rockford closed its doors rather than comply with the measure, characterizing this as an example of religious freedom of conscience being stepped on. LGBT rights charities and child welfare groups hit back saying that the law did not compel them to endorse same-sex couples at all and in fact only demanded that agencies honor their primary commitment to the children in their care by allowing them the chance at being house in a loving home.
This lawsuit and the spirit behind it will no doubt serve to bolster calls for a referendum on a constitutional amendment that would ban civil unions as well as same-sex marriages in the state. This was proposed last month by a group of religious conservatives who say the civil unions bill was passed by lawmakers against the will of the people. Read more on that here.