Separation of Church and State

By Vanessa Morton

by Samantha Bohner, Contributing Writer

Same-sex couples may have a harder time adopting and fostering children if a proposed bill is passed in the Illinois Senate.

Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Decatur) proposed Senate Bill 2495 on Oct. 12, that would amend the state’s Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act to allow religious organizations like Catholic Charities, a global network of charity groups, to turn down any same-sex couple looking to adopt children or become foster parents.

“[Catholic Charities] does have a sincere religious belief that prohibits them from placing children with unmarried couples, so this legislation would make it very clear that they could continue to provide homes for kids in Southern Illinois,” McCarter said. “When they are presented with the opportunity by an unmarried couple, they will simply refer them to the Department of [Children and] Family Services.”

Randy Hannig, director of public policy at Equality Illinois, an equal rights group for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, said the bill would create a double standard [barred by] the Civil Union Act. The act, signed on Jan. 30 by Gov. Pat Quinn, requires adoption and foster care agencies to be nondiscriminatory

toward applicants.

“[Catholic Charities] will be taking state money for their services. At the same time, they’re saying to the state, ‘Well, I’m going to take your money, but I’m not going to follow the law that you have set out for us to follow, and we’re going to continue to be discriminatory in our practices,’” Hannig said.

He argued that the state should not fund Catholic Charities when it exempts itself from laws that apply to all other agencies.

“This is actually the fourth time this year that [Catholic Charities] has tried to basically carve out an exemption for itself in terms of adoption and foster care standards,” Hannig said.

But McCarter said the act stated it would not interfere with any religious agency when it was passed into law in early 2011.

Bob Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, a group that represents the Catholic voice in public policy issues, said supporters of the bill are taking action because of the lack of clarity contained in the Civil Union Act. He said the act is not specific about discrimination against adoption and foster care applicants.

“It’s something that has been worked out, and for years this has never been a problem to our knowledge,” Gilligan said. “The only thing that is driving this extremely unique situation is, quite frankly, the gay rights lobby which is driving this movement to get us out of foster care.”

According to Gilligan, Catholic Charities is not violating the Civil Union Act because of its interpretation.

“We think we are in conformity with the law, so we’re supporting [Senate Bill] 2495 because it further clarifies what we already think is true,” he said.

According to McCarter, Catholic Charities organizations are responsible for the majority of adoptions and foster care placements in Southern Illinois, and if they lose their funding, there will be a backlog of children without parents.

“If we’re going to get that job done here in the state and have it done by people that really care, we need to make it possible for Catholic Charities to do that,”

McCarter said.

However, Hannig said it will be harder for gay and lesbian parents to adopt and foster children if the bill is passed.

“Allowing publicly funded welfare industries to reject otherwise qualified parents, only because they are lesbian or gay, definitely limits the pool of best parents [who] are available for these children,” Hannig said. “And it also keeps these children in the system even longer.”

McCarter said Catholic Charities has been proven to perform adoptions and foster care placements for much less than the DCFS and has quality ratings to back up its work. While he believes there are enough votes in the Senate and House to pass the bill, McCarter said it needs get done as soon as possible.

“The concern here is not the [financial well-being] of an organization,” he said. “It’s important that we pass this for the sake of the kids [who] are looking to be placed in homes in Southern Illinois.”