Multiple Dioceses Challenge Anti-LGBTQ Non-Discrimination Protections in Adoption, Foster Care Services

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Catholic dioceses in Texas and Pennsylvania are challenging anti-LGBTQ non-discrimination protections tied to government funding of adoption and foster care services, protections that the Trump administration seeks to gut at the federal level.

The San Antonio Express News reported that the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has joined a lawsuit with the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) challenging the federal rules that prohibit agencies who receive federal grants from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to the lawsuit, the Archdiocese’s position is that it “may only provide foster care services consistent with its sincerely held beliefs on Catholic doctrine and social teaching…As such, the archdiocese cannot provide home studies and certifications for unmarried cohabitating or same-sex married couples.”

If the Archdiocese prevails, they will be able to legally deny prospective LGBTQ foster parents the ability to foster and adopt children. The Archdiocese is led by the outgoing president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Cardinal Daniel DiNardo.

Child welfare advocates have stated that there are an insufficient number of foster care placements in Texas, forcing some children to sleep in state offices. Further restrictions could exacerbate the existing shortage. 

Soon after this lawsuit was filed, the Trump administration, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) moved to rescind Obama-era federal anti-LGBTQ non-discrimination regulations that applied to recipients of HHS grants, including funding for adoption and foster care services. Under the Trump administration plan, faith-based organizations would be able to legally reject LGBTQ people as adoptive and foster parents while still receiving federal grants. The USCCB has openly pledged their support for this lawsuit.

In a related case, some Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania have made a similar challenge to a state policy that added sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories of discrimination, reported the Tribune-Review.

Following the updated policy, all Pennsylvania child care agencies were required to sign updated contracts that included the new non-discrimination clause on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, three Catholic agencies — the Diocese of Greensburg, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and Catholic Charities Counseling and Adoption Services of the Diocese of Erie — returned the contract with their own modified provision, seeking to “nullify the nondiscrimination provision with a religious accommodation,” stated Erin James, a spokeswoman for the state.  

Pennsylvania’s Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN), which governs all private adoption agencies, denied the religious accommodation to all three Catholic agencies and also removed them as SWAN affiliates. Thereafter, the Diocese of Greensburg “announced that its Catholic Charities agency was closing its adoption and foster care program.” Catholic Social Services has already challenged the policy in its lawsuit against that city’s government.

It should be noted that out of 78 private adoption agencies, 21 are faith-based, but only three sought a religious exemption.  And other Catholic adoption agencies throughout Pennsylvania, such as Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Harrisburg and St. Joseph’s Center of Scranton, agreed to the updated discrimination provisions and did not seek an exemption.

In contrast to the contested issue of same-sex adoption by some of the dioceses in Texas and Pennsylvania, Brian Cahill, former Executive Director of San Francisco Catholic Charities, offers a different perspective. Published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Cahill writes:

“. . . San Francisco Catholic Charities and other Catholic Charities agencies around the country — when faced with the choice between working with gay and lesbian adoptive parents or losing their public funding and license — abandoned a hundred-year tradition and thousands of poor and needy children, and ignored the reality that the largest cohort of potential adoptive parents for the most challenging and troubled children in the foster care system are committed same sex couples who want to create family.”

Cahill criticized the USCCB’s stance on anti-LGBTQ non-discrimination protections and the inconsistency of their position:

“In their assault on LGBT employees and adoptive parents, the double standard of these church leaders is impossible to ignore. Bishops who are fixated on same-sex activity because it violates church teaching don’t seem to be bothered by their heterosexual employees who violate church teaching by living together outside of marriage or practicing birth control.”

Furthering Cahill’s list about violations against church teaching, what about those who have remarried after a divorce or who have employed in-vitro fertilization (IVF)?  Would they be denied the opportunity to foster or adopt a child? Regardless of the answer, this quickly brainstormed list illustrates the ever-growing potential examples of discrimination if faith-based organizations are granted a religious exemption.

Instead of applying a blanketed and harsh policy, the litmus test should be based on the qualities of the prospective parents, and whether or not they can provide a stable and loving home for the child. Cahill’s critique dismantles the false notion that our sexual identity somehow determines our capacity to be a loving parent. Being LGBTQ is no longer considered to be an obstacle to building a family. The Church should live up to its social justice teaching and recognize the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings, including LGBTQ persons, in their capacity to care for some of the most marginalized and troubled children in our world.

–Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, November 24, 2019

5 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    So, the USCCB and now some dioceses are peddling the narrative that not only are same sex couples unqualified to provide loving homes for children needing adoption, but also straight couples living without the church blessing of matrimony. Just who do they think they are protecting ? They would rather leave children in the system awaiting adoption ? These system are strained and underfunded . The only benefit here seems to be for grandstanding bishops and an angry administration , patting themselves on the back for doing “the right thing”. Nice work, fellows. Nice work.

  2. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    What seems clear from the facts as reported in this article, is that the objection to adoption and foster care by same-sex couples is not about the welfare of the children.


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