Civil unions law stops Catholic adoption agencies in Illinois

Published: Tuesday, July 12 2011 1:59 p.m. MDT

When the new civil union law in Illinois became effective June 1, the stage was set to force some religious adoption and foster care agencies to choose between following their religious beliefs or following the new state law.

Lutheran Child and Family Services had a policy requiring foster care parents to be married, according to The Chicago Tribune. The Lutheran agency decided to follow the state law in order to renew its contract.

The Evangelical Child and Family Agency also had a policy that foster parents must be married, but it will not change its policy. Yet it still renewed its contract with the state, agency leaders telling the Chicago Tribune that they saw no language that conflicted with their policies.

Catholic Charities has run into trouble, however.

The Associated Press reported that, "Currently agencies in four dioceses — Peoria, Joliet, Springfield and Belleville — provide adoption and foster care services in Illinois. But since the civil unions law took effect June 1 they've all made clear that they only want to place children with married couples or noncohabitating individuals. All except Belleville have sued the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Illinois attorney general for threatening to enforce new policies that accommodate civil unions."

Those actions drew strong reactions.

First Things religious blogger Joe Carter commented this way, "In America you can have religious liberty or you can have homosexuality be a protected class of 'minority' — but you can't have both. And when they conflict, guess which one will lose out?"

Camilla Taylor, national marriage project director for Lambda Legal, told The Advocate last month what she thought of the Catholic Charities' move: "They're asking permission to put their desire to discriminate ahead of the welfare of children in state care."

Anthony Riordan, chief operating officer of Catholic Charities of Peoria, told The Advocate they provide foster-care service for 20 percent of the foster children in Illinois. "If we were forced out, in our view, the worst-case scenario would be pretty devastating to the child welfare system." Riordan also addressed the question of whether annual state funding to Catholic Charities of $30 million takes away its right to object. "I think it's certainly a reasonable point: If you receive state funds, you have to follow the directives and the rules of the state," Riordan told The Advocate. "But our position is that faith-based charities have religious liberties and certain rights of conscience."

Gov. Pat Quinn disagrees, however, and the state Department of Children and Family Services announced it won't renew contracts with Catholic Charities for foster-care and adoption.

Quinn, a practicing Catholic and a Democrat, reiterated his support of the civil union law and the state's decision to sever ties with Catholic Charities.

"We're not going back," he said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "They made a choice. Any organization that decides that because of the civil unions law that they won't participate voluntarily in a program, that's their choice."

"What the Quinn administration has done," Peter Breen, Executive Director and Legal Counsel at the Illinois-based Thomas More Society and Pro-Life Law Center, told the Catholic News Agency, "is a statement of wanting to end, unilaterally, an over 30-year partnership with Catholic Charities to provide foster care for the children of the state of Illinois." Breen said the move would "displace 2,500 children in foster care across the state, who are under the care of Catholic Charities."

The Herald News explained that Catholic Charities in Chicago stopped foster care and adoption services in 2007 for financial reasons and the Diocese of Rockford, Ill., stopped its services without a fight when the civil union law passed. But the APreported that three Catholic dioceses — Peoria, Joliet, Springfield — in Illinois are fighting back by asking a Sangamon County, Ill., judge to put a hold on the enforcement of the law.

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, which advocates for gay marriage, cast Catholic Charities not as a victim, but as a perpetrator of harm to children. She told The Advocate that Catholic Charities' legal efforts are bad for children: "If there are groups that would choose to deny children a home because of political agendas, then we must replace them with compassionate child placement agencies that are focused squarely on doing what's best for kids."

Breen, at the Thomas More Society sees it differently.

"The legislature made clear that it was protecting religious entities as it passed the civil unions law," Breen told Catholic News Agency. "Now the executive branch is ignoring the legislative intent of the law, and pushing a partisan political agenda instead of enforcing the laws as they were written and intended by the General Assembly."

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

TWITTER: degroote

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