Under the new Civil Unions law that goes into affect June 1st, all state-funded adoption agencies are required to serve couples that receive the unions.
Illinois’ Catholic Charities, an organization that controls 20 percent of all adoptions and foster placements in the state, is planning to disregard the law and turn away couples that are cohabitating without a legal marriage. An amendment to the Civil Unions law that was voted down by the state legislature in April would have granted faith-based adoption agencies an exemption from the clause included in the law.
The Catholic Charities focuses on “cohabitation” in their denial of applications. Couples who live together—gay or straight—and aren’t legally married cannot adopt children through their program. The Illinois Civil Unions law allows same-sex couples to be legally joined and receive all the same rights as married couples, without calling the union a marriage.
Rev. Emily Gage, the Minister of Faith Development at Unity Temple, is an adoptive parent with her wife. They did not reach out to Catholic Charities for help with their adoption.
“It didn’t even occur to me to look at the Catholic Charities,” Gage said. “I figured I already knew what their position was.”
Celeste Matheson, the Director of Advancement for Catholic Charities, said that her organization doesn’t get many requests from couples that aren’t married: gay or straight. When they do, they direct them elsewhere.
“We say, we’re not going to be able to process this application because of your cohabitation status, but this is an agency that we will send you to,” Matheson said. “And we give them all the information that they would need.”
The Charities’ policy could get them in hot water with the Department of Child and Family Services, but Matheson said they hadn’t heard anything yet.
“We’re unsure of what the future holds,” she said. “DCFS may tell us, come June 1st, that they are unable to continue to contract with us.”
Matheson said Catholic Charities is still hopeful for the help of a legal exemption for their organization before June 1st. They have no plans to change their policy on unmarried couples.
“Obviously the clock is ticking, and June will be here before we know it. But we do need to stand firm in our own religious beliefs when it comes to cohabitation,” Matheson said.
Gage doesn’t think that Catholic Charities’ refusal to cooperate with state law will change much for same-sex couples.
“Same-sex couples already know there are tons and tons of barriers out there for us to be able to adopt kids,” Gage said. “This is just sort of another variation on the theme, unfortunately.”
It’s not clear if the legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois would change the Catholic Charities’ adoption policy. In 2006, Boston Catholic Charities elected to stop offering adoption services rather than adhere to a Massachusetts law that prohibited them from denying adoption to married, same-sex couples.
Regardless of the rationalization, those who would suffer most would be the kids, Gage said.
“I think anything that prevents children from getting into a happy, healthy home is working against the best interests of our kids and of our society,” she said.
Matheson agrees; the ending of adoption services through the Catholic Charities in Illinois would leave 3,000 children stranded.
“That’s really what we are concerned about,” she said.
What do you think? Should Catholic Charities be allowed to turn away same-sex couples who want to adopt? Post your comments below or sound off on our discussion board.