Supreme Court to Hear Same-Sex Foster Care Case

By: - February 25, 2020 12:00 am

Gregg Pitts, left, and Brooks Brunson read to their son, 6 months, at their home in Washington, D.C., in 2016. The District of Columbia and most states allow same-sex couples to adopt, but 11 states don’t. The Supreme Court has agreed to take a case on whether governments can require faith-based foster care agencies to serve same-sex couples. Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up a case involving same-sex couples and foster care, a move that could have far-reaching implications for states.

State attorneys general in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia asked the court to take the case. In a friend of the court brief, they argued that they were vulnerable to lawsuits by “groups advocating LGBTQ interests and the separation of church and state.”

“At least ten States have enacted laws expressly protecting the religious liberty of faith-based child-placing agencies to operate according to those beliefs,” they wrote. “These laws prohibit state and local government entities from refusing to work with those agencies because of their beliefs.”

Cities and states often contract with private child welfare agencies to provide foster care services, from finding emergency placements for children who’ve been abused or neglected to placing them with a permanent adoptive family.

The case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, pits Catholic Social Services, a faith-based foster care agency, against city officials. The city requires child welfare agencies contracting with them to adhere to a nondiscrimination requirement.

Catholic Social Services, a division of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, does not place children with same-sex couples. Church officials allege that the city is violating their First Amendment rights by refusing to do business with them.

Many same-sex couples have been able to adopt from private adoption agencies that are sympathetic to gay families. But adopting from the foster care system is difficult in some states.

Eleven states permit state-licensed child welfare agencies to refuse to place and provide services to children and families if it violates their religious beliefs, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ-rights group based in Boulder, Colorado.

In fiscal 2018, the latest year for which data is available, a record number of children were adopted from foster care, according to the U.S. Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.

The spike in adoptions is another sign of the chaos wrought by the opioid crisis. In the past decade, thousands of children have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care as their parents struggle with addiction.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Teresa Wiltz

Teresa Wiltz covers welfare, housing and social services for Stateline. Previously, she worked for the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.