(Chicago, IL, August 16, 2011) - Today Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of several child welfare organizations including the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, the National Association of Social Workers and its Illinois chapter in a case brought by four Dioceses of Catholic Charities against the state of Illinois. These Dioceses seek to force the state to fund their foster care services even though they refuse to follow state law by licensing couples in civil unions as foster parents, claiming they are exempt from state nondiscrimination requirements on religious grounds.
"The state's overarching mandate is to make child placements in accordance with a case-by-case determination of what is in each child's best interests," says Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal. "To allow theses Dioceses to exclude categorically an entire class of people as potential foster parents would violate Illinois and federal law and deny many Illinois children their best opportunity for a better life."
Last month, the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services declined to renew contracts with the Dioceses after they insisted that they would not license couples in civil unions as foster parents. 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.
Lambda Legal's brief on behalf of the child welfare agencies argues 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. It also would send 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 adulthood - no matter how loving, how committed, or how responsible - will be inferior to those in other families.
The case is Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Springfield-in-Illinois et al. v. Illinois et al. For more information about the case, visit our website at http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/catholic-charities-v-illinois.html
Lambda Legal lawyers Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director, and Flor Bermudez, Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project Staff Attorney, are joined by co-counsel Richard D. Felice of Wheaton, Illinois, and Rhonda K. Jenkins of Springfield, Illinois.