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In the News: Debate Over Gay Foster Parents
Represent staff

There was a showdown this summer between the Catholic Church and the state of Illinois over foster care. The trouble started with a bill that took effect June 1. That bill gave gay couples the right to have a civil union, which isn’t quite the same as making gay marriage legal, like seven states and the District of Columbia have. Still, under the civil union law, gay couples get most of the same rights that spouses get, including parental and adoption rights. And the law lets the state withhold funding from adoption and foster care agencies if they discriminate against gays and lesbians.

The Catholic Charities foster care agencies handle about 20% of Illinois’ foster and adoption caseload—that’s around 2,000 children. Fearing that they could be forced for the first time to place foster children with gay parents, three dioceses (districts of the Catholic Church) suspended all adoption and foster care services by Catholic agencies while they tried to get an exception to the new law. They argued that they deserve an exemption because the new law forbids “interference with or regulation of religious practice.” The Church says that since it believes that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, it shouldn’t have to start placing children with unmarried foster parents.

The foster care and adoption contracts expired June 30. The Illinois attorney general’s office sent a letter in June accusing Catholic Charities of discriminating “against Illinois citizens based on … marital status, and sexual orientation.” In July, the state told Catholic Charities that it didn’t plan to renew the foster care and adoption contracts. But if the agencies got the exemption, then the state would have to renew those contracts.

In August, a county judge in Illinois ruled that the state can end its contracts with adoption and foster care services with Catholic Charities. In other words, those agencies do not get to break the law that forbids discrimination against gay and lesbian couples just because their religion says being gay is wrong.

We at Represent are sad that Catholic Charities feels it can no longer help youth in care, but we are glad the Illinois court made the decision it did. Gay kids in care often face discrimination and need accepting homes. Straight kids here have reported that some of the best foster parents they’ve had were gay. There’s a shortage of good, caring foster parents, and it makes no sense to shut out responsible, loving adults who want to give a child a home just because they are gay or are not married.

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