With Court Case Looming, Catholic LGBTQ Adoptive Families Tell Their Stories

As LGBTQ people  await the outcome of Fulton v. Philadelphia, a U.S. Supreme Court case which will decide if Catholic and other faith-based agencies will have to consider LGBTQ people as foster and adoptive parents, some Catholic lesbian and gay couples have shared their families’ foster and adoptive journeys with John Gehring, the director of Catholic programs for Faith in Public Life, who researched an extensive story for the National Catholic Reporter.

The Duddy-Burke Family: Finn, Becky, Marianne, Emily

After being turned away from a Catholic adoption agency, Marianne Duddy-Burke and her spouse Becky were deeply shaken, but it didn’t stop them from becoming parents, she told Gehring:

“[Marianne] Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, a national advocacy organization for LGBTQ Catholics, eventually adopted two children, a daughter and son, with her spouse through a state agency in Massachusetts. Emily, an infant born addicted to drugs who lived in a medical foster home for seven months before she was adopted, is now a 19-year-old college student studying to be a teacher. Finn is a transgender 17-year-old high school student. Duddy-Burke marvels at the deep joy parenting brings even as she carries the scars of those experiences with a Catholic agency. For someone who once lived in a motherhouse with nuns, has a master’s degree in theology and is married to a former Sister of Mercy, the memories are painful. ‘With the connection we have to Catholicism, it was the hardest rejection we ever faced,’ she said.”

Vatican statements rejecting gay couples led one of Duddy-Burke’s children to turn away from Catholicism:

“Emily, her daughter, grew up steeped in Catholic culture as part of the affirming DignityUSA community. For a while as a child, she went to Catholic school. Her godparents are Catholic. She was baptized. But Emily no longer considers herself a member of a church that in a 2003 Vatican statement declared allowing same-sex couples to adopt ‘would actually mean doing violence to these children.’ Emily recoils at that language.”

Emily told NCR:

“A lot of kids don’t get out of foster care … I was born addicted to drugs, but my mothers stepped up and gave me a chance. I will always be grateful for that. Being adopted, you always want love and you fear you’re never going to get that. They showed me that I was worthy of love.”

John Freml and husband Rick Nelson, with children: Jordan Freml Nelson and Riley Freml Nelson

Gehring related another story that was filled with an extremely painful emotional travail:

“John Freml and his husband, Rick, adopted a baby girl in 2016 through a private Illinois agency. It was a dream fulfilled, and they immediately bonded with their daughter. But when a few of the infant’s biological family members found out the child had been placed with a same-sex couple, they took action to remove the baby. Experts made home visits. The Department of Children and Family Services seemed to favor keeping the child in Freml’s home. But the painful process dragged on for over a year and cost the couple more than $30,000 in legal fees. They eventually lost in court. ‘It was heartbreaking,’ Freml said. ‘It took us a while to recover.’

“The couple later successfully adopted and now have a 5-year-old son, Riley, and a 7-year-old daughter, Jordan.”

Catholic agencies have taken a variety of approaches towards gay couples looking to adopt. Catholic Charities in San Francisco facilitated adoptions by same-sex couples for years, but eventually stopped doing so after increasing opposition from conservative Catholic media, Gehring reported. Other Catholic Charities agencies have discontinued adoption services rather than providing them to gay couples.  He explains:

“When the city council in Washington, D.C. passed a measure legalizing same-sex marriage at the end of 2009, Catholic Charities in the nation’s capital closed its doors for adoption services in 2010. The agency even stopped providing health insurance benefits to all of its employees to avoid giving benefits to a gay spouse. In 2011, Catholic Charities affiliates in Illinois shut down its more than four-decades-old adoption services rather than comply with a requirement that it could no longer receive state money if it turned away same-sex couples. Catholic Charities of Buffalo followed suit in 2018 after more than 50 years of hosting adoption and foster services.”

Gehring also provided some background on the Supreme Court case which will be decided in the coming months:

“Fulton v. City of Philadelphia spotlights an increasingly familiar national debate that pits religious liberty claims against LGBTQ rights. The city of Philadelphia contends that Catholic Social Services should be prohibited from continuing to receive city funding while refusing to place foster children with same-sex couples, which the city argues is a violation of Philadelphia’s non-discrimination policy. Two Catholic foster parents and Catholic Social Services claim in the suit that the city’s policy is religious discrimination.”

Gehring’s research is filled with many facts and illustrations of the problems that LGBTQ people face when applying to Catholic agencies for foster and adoption services.  His article contains the perspectives of social workers, as well. To read the full story, click here.

Mac Svolos, New Ways Ministry, April 23, 2021









1 reply
  1. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    I don’t understand how some claim religious discrimination yet do not recognize their own discrimination against human beings.


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