In a unanimous ruling on Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Pennsylvania Catholic foster care services’ right to refuse to certify same-sex married couples or unmarried couples regardless of their sexual orientation, even when working under contract with the city of Philadelphia.
The justices wrote in their decision that “other foster agencies in Philadelphia will certify same-sex couples, and no same-sex couple has sought certification” from the foster care service.
The city of Philadelphia had argued that the refusal of Catholic Social Services to certify same-sex couples went against a nondiscrimination provision in the city’s contract and also went against the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance.
Catholic Social Services and several foster parents sued to claim the actions by the city violated their First Amendment right to free speech.
The court held that the nondiscrimination provision isn’t applicable because of an exception allowance in the contract. The ruling does not create a general right to discriminate, LGBTQ+ advocates pointed out, because it turns solely on the specifics of the Philadelphia contract.
However, the court also found:
Under the circumstances here, the City does not have a compelling interest in refusing to contract with CSS. CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.
The New York Times noted that the decision is just the latest example of religious groups winning in the current court.
LGBTQ+ rights lawyers and advocates took to Twitter to discuss the ruling after it came out Thursday morning.
Chase Strangio of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote that the “good news” of the case was that “it is very narrow and fact-specific.”
Josh Block of the ACLU said that the “bottom line” was that the case applied to this specific contract and not to civil rights laws.
The president of the Human Rights Campaign, Alphonso David, posted that the ruling was a time to celebrate LGBTQ+ families who have provided homes to children in need and those in the foster care system and to continue to work against discrimination.