January 2012 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Catholic Charities has abandoned a legal fight in Illinois to participate in a state-funded foster care program without complying with a new law that legalized civil unions for same-sex couples.

The new law granted same-sex couples many of the same rights as married opposite-sex couples, including the right to apply to be foster parents. This development made Catholic leaders in Illinois unhappy and when the state told them they would have to follow the law, the dioceses of Joliet, Springfield and Belleville decided to sue.

A state court sided against the church, and officials chose to drop the case. Joliet is planning to transfer foster children from Catholic Charities to different agencies while Springfield has decided to stop accepting state funds for foster care and continue the service on its own dime. As for Belleville, a Catholic group in southern Illinois has broken ties with that diocese and will form a new group to handle foster care in compliance with the law.

Peter Breen, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, which represented the dioceses, expressed some bitterness about the situation.

“This stands as a stark lesson to the rest of the nation that legislators promising ‘religious protection’ in same-sex marriage and civil union laws may not be able to deliver on those promises,” he said in a statement.

But civil rights activists were pleased that the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Springfield-in-Illinois v. State of Illinois lawsuit has been withdrawn.

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