Proposed bill would effectively ban US Catholic adoption agencies

By Kevin J. Jones

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Lori Windham and Peter Sprigg

A proposal in Congress would ban Catholic adoption agencies and undercut the needs of children by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of marital status or sexual orientation, two legislative experts say.

“This legislation would prohibit adoption agencies and foster care agencies, including religious adoption agencies and foster care agencies, from providing services in many cases,” warned Lori Windham, Senior Counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “They would have to choose between following their religious beliefs and shutting down.”

Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, agreed.

“It would have the effect of either banning Christian adoption agencies or forbidding them from acting on their faith convictions and their moral convictions in terms of what is in the best interest of a child.”

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) introduced the bill, titled “Every Child Deserves a Family Act,” on May 3. Its 52 co-sponsors in the House include Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Sen. Kristin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is expected to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.

The House bill would prohibit “discrimination in adoption or foster care placements” based on sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status of any prospective adoptive or foster parent, or the sexual orientation or gender identity of the child involved.

The bill would affect any adoption or foster care agency that receives federal assistance or contracts with an entity that receives federal assistance.

Stark told the Huffington Post he decided to introduce the measure because of the “homophobic opposition that has tried to decide that gay people aren’t suitable adoptive parents.”

He cited a “tremendous need” for adoptive parents in the U.S. and said there are “thousands of kids who would otherwise be stuck in foster care.”

But Sprigg said the bill would drive out “some of the most effective adoption agencies that there are.”

“Christian adoption agencies such as Catholic Charities have such an outstanding record. It would be sacrificing the interest of children to drive them out of the adoption business.”

In 2009 Catholic Charities completed 3,794 adoptions and provided adoption services to 43,982 clients. It provided foster care services for 18,344 children and adolescents, the Catholic Charities USA 2009 Annual Survey reports.

“The impact of the legislation would be to mean that fewer children will actually get homes,” said Windham. She said such proposals are part of a “growing conflict” and that supporters of religious freedom should oppose Stark’s bill. 

Without a religious freedom exemption, the bill would make it “very difficult if not impossible” for religiously-affiliated agencies to operate, Windham said.

Similar laws have forced some agencies to close.

Windham cited a regulation enforcement in Massachusetts which compelled the Boston Catholic Charities affiliate to stop providing adoption services because it could not place children with same-sex couples.

The proposal could have similar effects to a law in the United Kingdom which caused the closure or disaffiliation of all Catholic adoption agencies because they could not in good conscience place children with same-sex couples.

State laws recognizing same-sex unions have also placed pressure on religious agencies.

The District of Columbia’s “gay marriage” law last year resulted in the shutdown of the local Catholic Charities’ foster care and public adoption programs because the law required the agency to provide services to homosexual couples.

On May 26, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rockford ended its adoption and foster care program because it could not comply with a new civil unions law passed despite religious freedom objections in December 2010.

The law would similarly have required the agency to place children with homosexual or unmarried couples.

Sprigg defended the practice of placing children with married men and women.

There are “unique problems” associated with homosexual relationships and cohabiting heterosexual relationships that suggest these relationships are “likely to be less stable than a married husband-and-wife household,” he said.

“Therefore, I think it’s legitimate to disfavor them or to exclude them altogether.”

He added that there is “overwhelming” evidence that children do best when raised by a mother and a father.

While Sprigg would not necessarily exclude single people from adoption, he said states and adoption agencies should have “a strong preference” for placing children with a married mother and father.

He expressed hope that the bill will not come to a vote in the Republican-controlled House.

“However, it may be that they are trying to lay the groundwork for passage if control of the House changes in the future,” he said.

“This represents one more case in which we are seeing the rights of adults placed ahead of the best interests of the children.”

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