Catholic Charities in Southern Illinois Fights State Approval of Gay and Lesbian Couples as Foster Parents

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September 9, 2011; Source:  Carmi Times | Some 2,000 foster families in Illinois are supported by Catholic Charities, which gets its money for this purpose from the State of Illinois. But Catholic Charities and the state government are now facing off in the courts over whether the charity must support gay and lesbian foster parents.

Catholic Charities says it simply will not work with gay and lesbian couples as foster or adoptive parents. The state argues that Illinois’ new civil unions law prohibits state-funded charities such as Catholic Charities from denying support to gay and lesbian foster parents, and it intends to cancel $30.6 million in contracts with Catholic Charities for this reason. Catholic Charities wants the state to continue the contracts and allow the agency to refer gay and lesbian couples to other agencies.

So far the courts haven’t supported Catholic Charities’ argument, so the agency is appealing, arguing in part that some portion of its foster parents will opt out of participating entirely if the Department of Children and Family Services cancels the contracts. The state believes it is calling Catholic Charities’ bluff and already transitioning foster parents to other agencies. A Department spokesperson said, “The notion [Catholic Charities] is promoting that somehow they’re indispensable and no one can fill the void just is not the case.”

A spokesperson for Equality Illinois, the state’s largest gay-rights organization, was also unsympathetic to Catholic Charities, saying, “If they don’t want to take state funds, that’s fine. They can find a way to fund their own bigotry elsewhere.” Press stories such as this one from the Carmi Times do reveal that there are families in Illinois who only want to work with Catholic Charities—or a similar agency that will give foster and adoptive children the experience of a “traditional family,” that is, no gay or lesbian parents.

This isn’t the only instance of Catholic Charities and local or state governments at loggerheads due to the enactment of laws recognizing civil unions or same-sex marriage. For example, NPQ has covered Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C. denying spousal benefits to all employees in order to avoid complying with DC’s same-sex marriage laws here and here. Would NPQ Newswire readers require a state-funded Catholic Charities to comply with the Illinois law, or permit an exception that allows the agency to steer gay and lesbian foster parents to other agencies?—Rick Cohen

  • Nikki Kirk

    I believe that Catholic Charities should be required to adhere to the same mandates that any other nonprofit has to or forfeit the contract. I do not believe taxpayer dollars should fund organizations that exclude (even though many of them do it by hiring discrimination). I believe that ANY organization in direct conflict with any laws and requirements tied to their funding should excuse themselves as a service provider and fundraise like all the rest of the faith-based organizations to in order to fulfill their missions and service provisions. It’s a no-brainer and I really don’t understand the discussion. For far too long faith-based organizations have dabbled and benefited when it suited them. Let’s stop mixing church and state!