The city of Philadelphia has suspended its partnership with a Catholic organization providing foster care services because the church-affiliated organization seemingly discriminates against LGBT people.
City officials in Philadelphia have been investigating whether a publicly-funded religious organization can deny children to potential LGBT foster parents without violating the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. In the meantime, Catholic Social Services and Bethany Christian Services are barred from placing children in new homes, though children already placed by the agencies will remain. Michael O’Loughlin of America Magazine reported:
“The city’s decision came after The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the faith-based agencies do not place children in homes headed by same-sex couples. . .According to the Inquirer, Catholic Social Services and Bethany Christian Services received about $3 million from the city in 2017, representing about 3.5 percent of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services’ total payments to providers of foster care. Catholic Social Services placed 266 children in foster homes last year, while Bethany Christian Services found homes for 170. Both organizations have held contracts with the city since the mid-1990s.”
Catholic officials have pushed back against the suspension. Ken Gavin, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said that because of Catholic Social Services’ “deeply held religious beliefs and principles” it could not consider parents in same-gender relationships as suitable homes for children. He rejected the idea that the organization inquires as to the children’s sexual orientation. Catholic Social Services claims it refers potential LGBT foster parents to other agencies.
But Mayor Jim Kenney, a Catholic, has affirmed the good that can come from LGBT parents and they should not be discriminated against, according to WHYY:
“‘I think that two women or two men that happen to love each other or are married to each other who pass all the background checks and the financial circumstances and have a nice home should be able to welcome a foster child into their home.’
“‘We should first have a conversation with them to see what the extent of their discrimination is, but we cannot use taxpayer dollars to fund organizations that discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or because of their same-sex marriage status. . .It’s just not right.'”
LGBT advocates have raised the further issue of what impact discriminatory organizations like Catholic Social Services might have on LGBT youth, reported America. This issue is especially pertinent given the high percentage of youth experiencing homelessness in the U.S. who are sexual and/or gender minorities; one report found up to 40% of homeless youth are LGBT. Currey Cook of Lambda Legal asked:
“‘”How do you pretend you can simultaneously say we serve all youth and do a good job serving all youth while at the same time you’re saying same-sex couples are not real parents, are not good parents?. . .LGBT youth who have faced so much isolation, stigma, prejudice in the system are left wondering, “What’s going to happen if I come out, and I’m being served by parents or an agency that basically says trans parents, LGBT people, aren’t good parents?”‘”
On a positive note, the particular needs of LGBT youth have meant that Philadelphia city officials have been doing specific outreach in search of LGBT foster parents.
Denying a foster child to otherwise eligible parents because of the parents’ sexual orientations and/or gender identities is discrimination. Catholic Social Services seems to be setting itself up for a religious liberty claim in the hopes that an exemption will allow them to continue practices which discriminate. But whether or not the ban on LGBT parents is legal, it is morally unjust.
Philadelphia is not the only place where adoption and foster care have become contested ground in the struggle for LGBT equality. A lesbian couple in Texas filed a lawsuit against a Catholic Charities affiliate there when they were refused a child. A handful of Catholic social service providers have stopped providing adoption and foster care programs altogether in recent years because they could not reject parents in same-gender relationships.
In these cases, the zeal of some Catholics to discriminate against LGBT people overrides their love and care for vulnerable children, hardly a Jesus-like path. Such discriminatory behavior is scandalous. Hopefully, the city of Philadelphia will no longer publicly fund discrimination and will be successful in recruiting LGBT foster parents.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 24, 2018
The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Two foster agencies in Philly won’t place kids with LGBTQ people“