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Court Hears Arguments in Ill. Catholic Charities Case

Court Hears Arguments in Ill. Catholic Charities Case


A court in Sangamon County, Ill., today heard arguments from both sides in a case involving whether Catholic Charities should be able to provide state-funded foster-care services while discriminating against gay couples.

Four Illinois Catholic Charities offices -- in Springfield, Belleville, Peoria, and Joliet -- are challenging the state Department of Children and Family Services' decision this summer not to renew their contracts to handle foster-care placements. The organizations do not wish to comply with a state requirement that they treat couples in civil unions the same as married couples in considering them as foster parents. Civil unions became available to both gay and straight Illinoisans June 1.

Thomas Brejcha (pictured), an attorney representing the Catholic Charities groups, told the court religious exemptions in the civil union law means that the groups are in compliance and should be able to continue to provide foster-care services for the state without considering same-sex couples, which would violate Catholic beliefs (the state says the exemptions apply only to clergy who do not want to perform civil unions). "To say that somehow our entities are the same as nonsectarian agencies is to say that alpha is the same as omega," he said, according to Windy City Times. The Catholic organizations would refer gay couples to other agencies, he said. He added that the groups received insufficient warning about the end of the contracts.

Attorneys for the state argued that the Catholic Charities affiliates are indeed violating the civil union law and that it would be illegal for the state to renew the contracts. "The state has the freedom to set the limits of its contracts," said Deborah Barnes, a lawyer with the Illinois attorney general's office. "It wasn't arbitrary and capricious, the ending of this 40-year relationship ... the legal landscape has changed."

A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which was granted the right to intervene in the case, said Catholic Charities' refusal to serve gay couples would harm LGBT children and discourage LGBT people from becoming parents. Referring gay couples to another agency "is still discrimination," said ACLU attorney Karen Sheley. Another civil rights group, Lambda Legal, has filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of child welfare organizations in support of the state, saying exclusion of an entire class of people -- gay couples -- from the pool of prospective parents is discriminatory to them and harmful to children.

Circuit court judge John Schmidt, however, discouraged arguments about either religious discrimination or anti-LGBT discrimination, saying the only issue he would consider was whether the state violated Catholic Charities' property rights in dropping the contracts. He expects to issue a ruling within a few days. Read more here.

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