SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — A judge is allowing the American Civil Liberties Union to intervene in the battle over adoption rights for same-sex couples.
The lawsuit centers on Catholic Charities’ policy of excluding same-sex couples in civil unions, and only serving married heterosexual couples who wish to adopt.
After civil unions became law at the beginning of June, Catholic Charities in Springfield, Peoria, Joliet and Belleville sued to forbid enforcement of a law that would forbid them from turning away same-sex couples when placing wards of the state.
The Illinois Attorney General’s Office said at the time that Catholic Charities, as a taxpayer funded entity, had to abide by the state’s definition of a legally recognized couple.
Now the ACLU says Catholic Charities’ policy constitutes discrimination. The organization moved this past Friday to intervene in the case on behalf of children in the custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
The ACLU says under the state constitution, decisions affecting children in DCFS care are to be made based upon “the best interest of the child,” and not the religious convictions of the adoption agency.
The ACLU also says Catholic Charities is claiming a “religious right to discriminate,” but in choosing homes for wards of the state of Illinois, the group is performing a state government function. State government does not have the legal right to discriminate against homes using religious objections, and the same applies to private agencies with which the state has contracted, such as Catholic Charities, the ACLU argued.
“This is not tolerable in an inclusive society,” John Knight, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a news release. “It harms children by limiting the pool of potential adoptive parents and harms our clients – basically telling them that they are not capable of parenting solely because they are lesbians.”
But that decision was quickly reversed. Attorneys for the agency issued an emergency filing pointing out that when Sangamon County Judge John Schmidt issued a preliminary injunction in favor of Catholic Charities in the group’s lawsuit, he said the relationship between the agency and the state had to remain as it had prior to the June 30 contract expiration.
The civil unions law grants domestic partnerships with many of the same benefits of marriage to both gay and straight couples.
But attorney Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, representing Catholic Charities disagreed. He says Catholic Charities provides adoption and foster care services to married couples and civil unions don’t count as marriage.
“Catholic Charities does not make child placements with unmarried couples, same sex or opposite sex,” he said in June.
Breen said the agency operates under Catholic teachings, which state marriage is defined as between one man and one woman.
Three attempts to pass legislation restrict adoption by same-sex couples have failed.
The most recent attempt was in June, when state Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) attempted to amend an ethics bill by inserting language that would allow adoption agencies affiliated with religious groups to turn away same-sex couples, Gay Chicago reported.