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Protecting religious adoption agencies that refuse gay couples

Child welfare

Two U.S. legislators want to prevent the government from discriminating against child welfare organizations and individuals who will not place children for foster care or adoption with gay couples for religious reasons.

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., introduced the Child Welfare Inclusion Act of 2014 “to ensure that organizations with religious or moral convictions are allowed to continue to provide services for children.” The legislation seeks to counteract recent moves by state and local governments that have forced providers out of service because of the their beliefs, according to a press release posted on Enzi’s website.

Historically, churches and faith-based organizations have played a critical role in caring for children in crisis. Hundreds of religious organizations partner with the government to provide child-welfare services such as assisting abused children, finding foster care homes, counseling parents and children, and providing family preservation and support services. Many child-welfare organizations rely on government funding for at least part of their budgets. States can access federal money through Social Security Title IV funds and then disburse the money to the organizations and individuals doing the work. 

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Illinois passed a civil union law in 2011, conferring all the rights of married people onto parties in a civil union, including people of the same gender. While the law said it would not “interfere with or regulate the religious practice of any religious body,” the state refused to renew Catholic Charities’s contract when the group announced it would refer people in civil unions to other agencies for foster care or adoption. In the end, Catholic Charities, which received 50 percent of its funding from the state, was forced to pull out of serving Illinois children, displacing more than 2,500 foster children and putting dozens of people out of work.

Government officials in California, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., have also refused contracts to religious organizations that are unwilling to provide child-welfare services in conflict with their beliefs. Many groups have had to end their “long and distinguished history of excellence in the provision of child-welfare services,”the bill explained.

Because the government provides child welfare services through a variety of organizations, each with “varying religious beliefs or moral convictions,”no one would be prohibited from accessing federal funds for foster care or adoption, according to the bill. If it passed, any state violating the law would risk losing 15 percent of its Title IV funding and have to compensate any aggrieved child-welfare providers.

“Faith-based charities and organizations do an amazing job of administering adoption, foster care, and a host of other services,” Enzi said in a statement. “Limiting their work because someone might disagree with what they believe only ends up hurting the families they could be bringing together.”

Sarah Padbury
Sarah Padbury

Sarah is a writer, editor, and adoption advocate. She and her husband live with their six teenagers in Castle Rock, Colo.

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