Illinois bill could save Catholic Charities adoption and foster care

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A proposed Illinois bill could allow the state’s Catholic Charities agencies to continue their foster care and adoption services, circumventing a looming clash between Catholic public service and homosexual advocates.

Republican State Sen. Kyle McCarter introduced legislation amending a civil unions bill passed in December 2010 to allow religious-based child welfare agencies to refer same-sex couples to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for other adoption and foster care options.

“During debate on the civil unions bill we were told by the sponsor there was no intent to force our churches or faith-based organizations to comply with a law that is counter to their beliefs,” McCarter said Oct. 15. “Unfortunately, the governor and his agency didn’t share that opinion and what we’ve seen since has been nothing short of religious discrimination.”

The Department of Children and Family Services terminated foster care and adoption services contracts with Catholic Charities agencies in the dioceses of Springfield, Joliet, Peoria and Belleville because the organizations cannot in good conscience place foster care children with unmarried couples.

McCarter said he believes he has enough votes to pass S.B. 2495 in the House and Senate if it is sent to the floor, the State Journal-Register reports.

“Catholic Charities is responsible for a majority of adoptions and placements of foster kids in southern Illinois, and they do it for a fraction of the cost, and they do it with an extreme amount of compassion,” he said.

Attorney Peter C. Breen of the Thomas More Society, which represents Catholic Charities, applauded the bill.

“The people of Illinois do not want to see Catholic Charities and other religious-based foster care agencies driven out of business, period,” he said on Oct. 13. “Lawmakers intended when they passed the civil union law to protect religious groups from compromising their beliefs regarding civil unions.”

The bill applies to child welfare agencies that are religiously based or owned by, operated by, or affiliated with a religious organization. It allows them to decline an adoption or foster family home application if accepting that application would be a violation of the agencies’ “sincerely held religious beliefs,” the bill’s synopsis says.

The Illinois homosexual advocacy group Civil Rights Agenda, charged that the bill is “anti-gay.”

“Obviously, the civil institutions behind this affront to LGBT civil rights are not backing down. We will not either. We had hoped to kill this bill quietly as has been done in the past,” the group’s executive director Anthony Martinez told the State Journal-Register. “Unfortunately, that strategy is no longer an option and our opposition has now been galvanized.”

Catholic Charities have served thousands of children and families since 1921 and handle about 20 percent of the adoption and foster care cases in Illinois.

The legal recognition of same-sex couples has eroded Catholic agencies’ freedoms elsewhere. In Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, Catholic Charities adoption programs have been forced to close because of laws requiring them to place children with same-sex couples.

A proposed federal law could have similar effects nationwide.

The “Every Child Deserves a Family Act” would bar any adoption or foster care agency that receives federal assistance or contracts with a federally-funded agency from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

The House version of the legislation presently has 75 co-sponsors.

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