If you ask the Catholic Charities officials in Illinois who have decided to limit their role or withdraw completely from the public adoption and foster care business, you’ll likely get a pat response: The church should not be forced to go against its social teachings in considering same-sex couples, who now have civil union rights in the state, as applicants to be parents. Doing so is a violation of constitutionally protected religious liberties. End of discussion.
Others, however, may tell you that Catholic Charities’ position is one of righteous indignation, held by a powerful group that seeks to discriminate, even when the cost of discrimination is losing multimillion-dollar state contracts. Turns out, Illinois is among the latter. In July, Illinois officials announced that they had declined to renew adoption and foster parenting contracts with all of the state’s Catholic Charities affiliates. The move ends a half century–old partnership between the Roman Catholic Church and the state and is one that the dioceses are now fighting in court.
As more states move to pass legislation recognizing same-sex couples, whether through marriage equality or civil unions, the issue of exemption for religious groups with state adoption contracts is becoming one of the more common saber-rattlers for antigay activists. The National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher, one of the most vocal opponents of gay marriage, argues that moves toward equality are “driving competent foster care and adoption agencies out of business” and hurting children in the process.
But Illinois, where a civil unions bill went into effect in June, has since shown antigay groups an inconvenient truth: Other private adoption agencies are willing to follow the law and are ready and capable of taking the cases relinquished by Catholic Charities, which handles one of every seven placements in the state. After the Rockford diocese announced that it was dropping its state contracts, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services found another regional adoption services group to handle the approximately 300 cases in a matter of weeks. Three other dioceses sued to be exempted from the civil union law and have received a temporary injunction against the state's cancellation of their contracts, pending an August hearing.
State officials say they are not bowing to pressure.
“Many public statements imply that without Catholic Charities, [child welfare services] would not be able to survive,” says Kendall Marlowe, spokesman for Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. “They’ve done good work for children in this state, and we don’t want to see them leave this field. But that’s factually untrue.”