Illinois’s and New York’s recent recognition of same-sex couples has raised religious liberty concerns for Catholic and other agencies providing adoption and foster care services. Now, more than 50 Members of the U.S. Congress have signed onto a bill that would go much further, posing a challenge to religious liberty, civil society, federalism, and the best interests of children.
Originally introduced by Representative Pete Stark (D–CA) in 2009, the “Every Child Deserves a Family Act” would deny federal funds to any adoption agency that “discriminates” against prospective adoptive or foster parents on the basis of their “sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.” The bill would both de-fund and de-legitimize Catholic adoption agencies and others nationwide that represent some of the nation’s most experienced and venerable providers.
The bill was reintroduced in May as H.R. 1681, and among its cosponsors are core members of the congressional liberal brass: former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–CA), former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Henry Waxman (D–CA), and former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Barney Frank (D–MA).
The passage of a same-sex marriage law in New York has fueled speculation about whether Catholic and other faith-based adoption agencies in the Empire State have a religious exemption from its effects. At least one prominent scholar argues that the law’s exemption language, written behind closed doors, is so “badly drafted” that the answer is unclear. These religious charities, many a century or more in operation, may soon be forced to choose between closure or violating their core beliefs about the nature of the family and the role of mothers and fathers in child well-being.
Ambiguous as the New York statute may be, some advocates for same-sex marriage have been very clear in other contexts that religious liberty concerns about same-sex marriage can be dismissed. To date, Catholic adoption agencies have been closed in Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, and the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois after adoption of homosexual marriage or civil union legislation. Operating in tandem with sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws, these new statutes have effectively nullified state licenses and funding of these agencies.
While New York’s action on same-sex marriage may leave some doubt about the fate of Catholic social services for children, the Stark bill removes all doubt: They’re out.