NOTE: Please see April 13 update in this issue of the online edition of Windy City Times.
An amendment to a proposed bill in the Illinois Senate states that "a child welfare agency that is religiously based or owned by, operated by, or affiliated with a bona fide religious organization may decline an adoption or foster family home application … from a party to a civil union if acceptance of that application would constitute a violation of the organization's sincerely held religious beliefs."
SB 1123, the bill including this amendment No. 65, means that unmarried straight or gay couples in civil unions who do not share the religious values or faith of the organization could be denied the chance to adopt or be foster parents.
Interestingly, the bill was introduced by state Sen. David Koehler, who introduced the civil-unions bill in the Senate. Anthony Martinez of The Civil Rights Agenda ( TCRA ) spoke to Windy City Times, saying that, "We know this is an attack on the civil-unions bill. We're seeing a re-presentation of that bill through an amendment to another bill, originally intended to expand the civil rights of the blind."
According to Martinez, "If an agency decides to not provide service, they can turn [ the parents ] away through the process of a referral." Martinez was also clear about the origins of the amendment, saying that it was definitely an attempt to undermine the civil unions bill: "We know that the Catholic Caucus and the Catholic Diocese is involved in this bill and advocating for it and really trying to push it through. They are the most vocal opponents of the civil unions bill."
According to both Rick Garcia, who is also following the bill in Springfield, and Martinez, this amendment is a watered-down version of a previous version. Speaking with WCT, Garcia said, "What it really wanted to do was exempt any religious organization or any religious individual, anyone who holds deeply held religious beliefs, that's how they put it, would be exempt from the Illinois Human Rights Act. That piece didn't make it into this amendment. So we have this bill that would allow faith-based foster and adoption institutions that would discriminate. Any agency that takes state or city or federal funds has to obey the law. That is a slippery slope that we do not want to go down."
News of the bill came last week. Martinez said that TCRA had been working on "connecting the dots" since then. It is currently in assignments, and from there will move into the executive committee and could come up for a floor vote by the end of the week.
WCT left messages for Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union, but they were also not able to return calls in time. WCT will continue to follow this story. Meanwhile, Martinez says that TCRA is urging the community to take swift action.
NOTE: Please see April 13 update in this issue of the online edition of Windy City Times at www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=31392