A federal court in Pennsylvania on
Friday sided with the city of Philadelphia, saying that the city had
the right to terminate a foster care agency's contract after it
refused to place children with same-sex couples.
In March, Philadelphia stopped
referring children to two foster care providers after learning that
they had refused to license same-sex couples to be foster parents.
Catholic Social Services (CSS) sued the
city, arguing that its right to free exercise of religion and free
speech were being violated.
On Friday, the U.S. District Court for
the Eastern District of Pennsylvania sided with the city, refusing
CSS's demand that it issue a preliminary injunction ordering
Philadelphia to resume referrals of cases to CSS.
In June, the American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a motion to intervene
in the lawsuit on behalf of several non-profit organizations,
including Philadelphia Family Pride, which represents gay and lesbian
foster parents and prospective foster parents.
“First and foremost, this is a
victory for children in Philadelphia who need a loving home and can’t
afford to have good families turned away for failing to meet a
religious litmus test,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of
the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “We’re proud
that the city is committed to ensuring that no qualified family that
comes forward to care for a child in need is turned away because of
their sexual orientation or other reasons unrelated to the ability to
care for a child. And we’re thrilled that the court rejected the
claimed constitutional right to discriminate against loving
Several states have passed laws
allowing adoption and foster care agencies to refuse gay couples,
including Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota,
Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma and Kansas. On Wednesday, an amendment to
a funding bill with similar goals cleared a House committee.
allowing adoption agencies to refuse gay couples clears House panel.)
Such laws are believed to be part of a
strategy to undermine marriage laws as they relate to same-sex
couples and the Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell ruling, which
found that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry.
According to the ACLU, Friday's ruling
may impact such laws.
“When faith-based agencies choose to
receive taxpayer dollars to provide public child welfare services,
their religious beliefs cannot trump the best interests of the
children in their care,” said
Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV
Project. “The court saw it was not only permissible for the city of
Philadelphia to prohibit discrimination by its contract agencies, but
that allowing the use of religious screening requirements in the
public child welfare system would likely violate the Constitution.”