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Religious Tolerance logo

Adoptions by same-sex couples in Illinois

Part 3: Conflict between same-sex couples
and faith-based adoption agencies (Cont'd)

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This is a continuation of an earlier essay

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Bill fails in Senate committee:

On 2011-APR-13, The Senate Executive Committee voted down the bill 7 to 6, with one abstention.

On the day before the vote, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Log Cabin Republicans officially opposed the bill. Also, Jennifer Chrisler, Executive Director of the Family Equality Council, issued a statement:

"This proposal would deny loving homes for many children who are in foster care or who are awaiting placement in foster homes. Given the need for adoptive parents in the state of Illinois there is no justification in allowing agencies using public funding to facilitate adoptions to discriminate." 1

After the vote, Anthony Martinez, Executive Director of the Civil Rights Agenda issued a statement:

"This is a huge victory for the LGBTQ community and families across Illinois. This is also a huge win for the tens of thousands of children that are in the adoption and foster system and need loving families." 1

Court case initiated and lost:

The Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act became effective on 2011-JUN-01. It created a system of civil unions in Illinois that gave registered couples all of the state rights, privileges and responsibilities of marriage, including the right to be considered for licensing as potential foster parents. Catholic Charities in four Illinois dioceses decided to ignore the state law. They automatically rejected applications for foster care licenses from all couples in civil unions. Even though they accepted funding from the government, they regarded themselves as exempt from this Act. They believed that they had to follow their religious beliefs concerning the nature of sexual orientation. This led to their need to discriminate against LGBT couples in civil unions.

This became another of many recent instances where religious freedom has become interpreted by faith groups as the freedom to discriminate against minorities. Although religious freedom once meant oppression by governments or larger faith groups to limit people's freedom of religious belief, religious practice, or religious assembly, it is increasingly being reversed. Some r eligious groups are switching from being the victims of oppression and are becoming aggressors who are oppressing other groups -- particularly women and sexual minorities.

When their contracts with the state ended in 2011-JUL, Catholic Charities in Springfield, Peoria, Joliet and Rockford launched a lawsuit to force the government to renew their contracts: The case is "Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Springfield-in-Illinois et al. v. Illinois et al." They were represented by the Thomas More Society, a Catholic legal defense group who obtained a temporary injunction to allow Catholic Charities to continue to receive funding pending resolution of the case.

Lambda Legal, a LGBT-positive group, filed an Amicus Curiae brief with the court, on behalf of several child welfare organizations including the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), and NASW's Illinois chapter. They argued:

"... that allowing the dioceses to exclude couples in civil unions from the foster parent application process would diminish the pool of loving, permanent homes for children in need. Illinois child welfare law and policies require that child placement decisions be made in accordance with each child's unique needs, and forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status. Governing professional and ethical standards for child welfare professionals also prohibit the intrusion of bias into child placement determinations. Additionally, the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution constrains the state from funding social service providers who use the dictates of a particular religion to determine who qualifies for services."

"The dioceses' refusal to license gay and lesbian prospective foster parents sends a message of exclusion, not only to the couples themselves, but to lesbian and gay youth in state care, who are particularly vulnerable. Gay, lesbian, transgender, and gender-nonconforming adolescents are disproportionately represented in foster care populations because they often experience rejection by their own families. If the dioceses' lawsuit succeeds, these children would be told by the authorities caring for them and by their government that they are morally unworthy ever of forming families of their own, and that their future relationships in adulthoodâ€"no matter how loving, how committed, or how responsibleâ€"will be inferior to those in other families."

Oral arguments were heard on 2011-AUG-17. Catholic Charities lost the case. On AUG-18, Judge John Schmidt ruled that the state was not required to renew its contract with Catholic Charities. The approximately 2,700 children involved were transferred to either secular adoption/foster care agencies, or to religiously-based agencies that do not discriminate against the LGBT minority as the Catholic Church does. 2,3,4,5

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2001-NOV-23: Catholic Diocese separates with their Catholic Charities agency:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Belleville, IL announced that, because of the state's civil union law, they are severing ties with the Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois which they founded in 1947. This will allow the agency to act independently of the Church. If the agnecy chooses, it will be able to start obeying state law and end their discrimination against LGB couples who wish to adopt or become foster parents.

The diocese issued a statement:

"When Illinois Catholic Charities agencies said they would refuse to place children with unmarried or same sex couples through their foster care and adoption programs, the battle lines were drawn.

After losing in a Sangamon County court and at the appellate level, CSS executive director, Gary Huelsmann, said the agency, along with its board of directors and in discussions with Bishop Edward K. Braxton, decided to sever the relationship between the agency and the diocese." 6

Jeff Field, director of Communications for the Catholic League, said:

"The tension has been caused by the Illinois government's refusal to fund Catholic programs that refuse to acknowledge homosexual marriage. Religious charities, whether they be Christian, Jewish, or Catholic, should absolutely be allowed to run their organization according to their religious tenets, even if they receive public funding." 6

Field appears to misunderstand the situation in Illinois: Same-sex marriage is not currently allowed in Illinois. He is apparently referring to "homosexual civil unions." Also, even the latter term is not accurate because some of these relationships are composed of one person with a homosexual orientation and one bisexual of the same gender. A few are composed of two bisexuals of the same gender. The preferred term is same-sex civil unions.

Hannah Smith, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, also believes that the government's refusal to fund Catholic Charities is wrong. She said:

"Catholic adoption agencies are morally constrained by their core religious convictions from providing services to same-sex couples. It is unfortunate that the Illinois government did not provide an exemption that would have allowed them to continue to provide services to the public consistent with their religious convictions. 6

She views this situation in Illinois as "a troubling pattern" seen throughout the country. State and federal governments are increasingly ignoring the religious conscience of faith-based agencies. That is, these agencies seek the religious freedom to discriminate against sexual minorities while still receiving government funding.

Brian H. McNeill of Rainbow Sash Alliance USA -- a Roman Catholic group promoting equal rights for the LGBT community -- said:

"It is the job of the adoption agency to find safe, loving homes for these children. The risk to children of abuse or neglect after adoption by an LGBT couple is no higher than it is after adoption by a heterosexual couple." 6

He feels that there should be a limit to the policies of faith-based agencies. He said:

"If those ‘moral viewpoints’ include the teaching that LGBT people are ‘objectively disordered’ and ‘oriented towards an intrinsic moral evil’ then they should not expect to receive contracts from a government that sees these positions as discriminatory." 6

Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois will be called Christian Social Services. All official connections to the diocese will be terminated by 2012-FEB. Since the agency will remain in business, and since they will apparently continue to receive government funding, it appears that Christian Social Services will no longer discriminate against qualified couples in civil unions.

As far as the impact on foster and adoptive children is concerned, the resolution reached in Illinois appears much better than those in Washington, DC and Boston, MA. Catholic Charities simply closed down their offices in these areas when same-sex marriage was approved in each of the political jurisdictions.

Within a day after the article was first published in Christian Post, four comments were posted by readers. All comments and reactions by other readers, were extremely critical of the Catholic Church and its policies of discrimination against the LGBT community. For example, Reyn Mansson wrote:

"I don't understand how any religious organization can rationalize their perceived entitlement to receive tax dollars for support of a program with biases based in their favored superstitions when those positions clearly are in opposition to the government's civil rights goals. If you need special exemptions from public law to avoid providing equal access to all services for all people, then you don't deserve funding or even tax breaks." 6

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Jen Sabella, "Anti-Gay Adoption Bill Shot Down In Illinois Senate Committee," Huffington Post, 2011-APR-13, at:
  2. Letter: Illinois Department of Children & Family Services to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria, 2011-JUL-08, at:
  3. Tom Clesielka, "Illinois Seeks to Remove 2,500 Children from Catholic Charities' Care," Christian News Wire, 2011-JUL-11, at:
  4. "Catholic Charities Battle to Keep Serving IL Children with Foster Care/Adoption Services," Thomas More Society, 2011-AUG-16, at:
  5. "Memorandumof Law of Amici Curiae..." Lambda Legal, 2011-AUG-15, at:
  6. Michael Gryboski. "Catholic Charities, Ill. Diocese Separate Over New Adoption Rules," Christian Post, 2011-NOV-23, at:
  7. "Rainbow Sash Alliance" has a home page at:

Copyright © 2011 & 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Posted: 2011-AUG-19
Latest update: 2012-FEB-13
Author: B.A. Robinson
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