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IL Catholic Charities drops lawsuit, will abandon child care to avoid serving LGBT parents

Tuesday, November 15, 2011
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Three Roman Catholic dioceses have dropped their lawsuit against the state of Illinois, agreeing to transfer more than 1,000 foster care children and staff to other agencies in their regions to avoid placing children in the homes of gay and lesbian parents.

The Illinois Catholic Charities was seeking an exemption from the state’s new civil unions law which took effect on June 1. The law requires any charity that accepts state money to provide child-care services to treat people in civil unions as it would treat married couples.

The decision by leaders in the dioceses of Joliet, Springfield and Belleville ends a historical partnership between Illinois and the charitable arm of the Catholic Church, which inspired the state to address child welfare in the first place and led to the creation of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

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In discussions after the civil union bill went into effect in June, representatives for Catholic Charities in Joliet, Springfield, Peoria, Rockford and Belleville told the state that accommodating prospective foster parents in civil unions would violate Catholic Church teaching that defines marriage between a man and a woman.

Pointing to a clause in the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act that they believe protects religious institutions that don’t recognize civil unions, the agencies said they would refer those couples elsewhere and only license married couples and single parents living alone.

But lawyers for the Illinois attorney general said that exemption only shields religious clergy who don’t want to officiate at civil unions. The policy of Catholic Charities violated state anti-discrimination laws that demanded couples in civil unions be treated the same as married couples, they said.

The state previously provided Catholic Charities $30 million annually for its services, but announced in July it would not renew its foster care and adoption contracts with Catholic Charities when the group said it would not comply with the civil unions law.

“I am encouraged to hear that Catholic Charities has realized they cannot win this lawsuit,” said Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda.

“This case and the legislation that has been introduced multiple times this year is all about prioritizing religion over what is best for the children in their care. Finding a loving home for the thousands of children in the foster/adoption system should be the priority, not trying to exclude people based on religious dogma. Dropping this suit is a step in the right direction for what is best for all the citizens of this great state,” he said.

The Rockford and Peoria dioceses have already terminated their adoption and foster cares programs and transferred their child welfare cases to other agencies willing to work with gay and lesbian couples.

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