The Catholic bishops have lost an ally in their fight to keep religiously-affiliated adoption and foster agencies from being LGBTQ-inclusive. In related news, some Catholics are pushing for the Biden administration to enforce regulations that would require such agencies to not discriminate.
Earlier this week, Bethany Christian Services announced a policy change that will mean its agencies now service LGBTQ adoptive and foster care parents uniformly, including those in same-gender relationships. Bethany is the U.S.’ largest adoption and foster care agency run by Evangelical Christians, and is active in 32 states, reported Religion News Service.
The change builds on what one spokesperson for the group called “a patchwork approach” in recent years of how different agencies handled LGBTQ clients. On its own, the new inclusive policy at Bethany Christian Services will positively impact thousands of LGBTQ parents and children going forward. For Catholics, it also means the U.S. bishops have lost an ally in their efforts to prevent Catholic child care agencies from being held to non-discrimination laws regarding LGBTQ parents.
Last fall, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case that centers on whether a religious organization that receives government funding should be obligated to abide by non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The case comes out of a dispute in 2018 between Catholic Social Services (CSS) and the City of Philadelphia, wherein the city cut funding to CSS over the agency’s failure to abide by local non-discrimination laws in regard to LGBTQ people. But related to CSS’ case is the Philadelphia-area affiliate of Bethany Christian Services, which also had its funding cut by the city that year until that Bethany affiliate altered its policies to be LGBTQ-inclusive.
In related news, DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBTQ Catholics, is asking Catholics to write to President Joe Biden and ask him to re-implement a rule at the Department of Health and Human Services that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity by agencies that receive federal funding. This rule had been in place before the Trump administration removed it in the former president’s final days. DignityUSA’s petition explains:
“Sadly, many religiously-affiliated organizations celebrated this reversal and will take advantage of the rule as license to discriminate against LGBTQI people, couples, and families. Many faith-based nonprofit organizations and agencies contract with federal, state, and local authorities to provide foster care services and match children in need with adoptive parents. Many of these groups have already taken steps to discriminate against LGBTQI couples, refusing to consider their applications to provide foster care or adopt.”
The DignityUSA petition explains that by allowing this rule to remain in effect, children in need will be harmed, and it could also worsen racial inequities in the foster care system. You can find more information and sign the petition here.
With Bethany Christian Service’s momentous shift in policy, Catholic agencies that seek a right to discriminate and the bishops who advocate for such a right are further isolated in their fight. The ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia may give them such a right, but Bethany’s decision is a reminder that, for Christians, legality and morality are not synonymous. In the case of vulnerable children awaiting foster care and adoption, the priority should always be to provide them with a loving home, LGBTQ families included, regardless of what the law says.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 4, 2021