A deal between the state of Kentucky and a Baptist-affiliated children’s agency has been struck after the agency initially refused to contract with the state due to anti-discrimination language in the contract that would have forced the agency to sponsor same-sex couples as foster parents.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, removed the anti-discrimination wording that had caused the agency to refuse the agreement, according to the Associated Press.
Thursday’s agreement allows the more than 50-year partnership between the state and Sunrise Children’s Services to continue. Sunrise Children’s Services offers foster care, residential, and therapeutic programs for youth and their families, according to the AP, which notes the agency works with children in the state with some of the highest rates of child abuse.
Sunrise has taken in children since 1869, initially looking after youth orphaned after the Civil War.
While the contract had been in limbo given the disagreement over its language, the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services announced Thursday that it had entered a one-year agreement with Sunrise.
Officials at the agency said they had disputed wording that would have made them go against deeply held religious beliefs by sponsoring same-sex foster parents, according to the AP.
Sunrise is connected to the Kentucky Baptist Churches, a network of 2,4000 churches, where homosexuality is widely considered to be a sin.
Chris Hartman, executive director of the Louisville-based LGBTQ+ advocacy group Fairness Campaign, told the AP, “It’s disappointing and disheartening that they would allow this discrimination to continue.”
An attorney for Sunrise, John Sheller, told the news wire that a recent U.S. Supreme Court case applied to this situation.
In that case, the high 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. However, legal experts noted that the decision came down to the anti-discrimination language in the specific contract between Philadelphia and the foster care agency.
Sheller said that had the state not changed the wording, the state would “invite litigation which the governor is sure to lose.”
“We’re going to continue conversations and continue advocating for no discrimination in any state-contracted services with anyone for any reason,” he said. “We don’t believe that state dollars should be utilized in the efforts of discrimination.”
According to Sheller, Sunrise redirects same-sex couples looking to foster to other agencies. He added that the agency does accept LGBTQ-identifying youth and does not put them through conversion therapy.