Republicans are trying to make adoption harder for LGBTQ people by basically allowing religious adoption agencies to deny kids to same-sex couples based on their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Thankfully, one federal court has just told Catholic Social Services, an anti-LGBT Catholic adoption agency in Philadelphia, they have no legal right to discriminate, but it remains to be seen whether this case will set legal precedent elsewhere.
An adoption agency called Catholic Social Services (CSS) initially sued after the city of Philadelphia decided to no longer offer foster care placements through CSS and another religious adoption agency called Bethany Christian Services (BCS). The city ended these placements after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the agencies routinely denied kids to same-sex couples.
In a decision issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker, a Clinton appointee, rejected all of CSS’s arguments. This included claims that Philadelphia had violated CSS’s rights to free speech and religion as well as the Establishment Clause.
CSS had admitted to Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services (DHS) that it discriminated against same-sex couples in two ways. It would not certify same-sex couples as prospective foster parents, even if they were otherwise eligible under state regulations. It also would refuse to conduct a home study for a same-sex couple applying to be adoptive parents. Incidentally, CSS would provide a home study for an individual looking to adopt, but only if that person was committed to living single.
Tucker concluded this clearly violated the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance. CSS had argued that it was not a public accommodation and therefore was not bound by the law, but she pointed out that CSS’s contract with DHS specifically included references to compliance with the Fair Practices Ordinance. The decision spells out how CSS is a public accommodation both with and without the contractual inclusion:
In this case, CSS’s provision of services meets the definition of public accommodations and, therefore, CSS must provide its services in accordance with the Fair Practices Ordinance as incorporated by Article XV, § 15.1 of the Services Contract. CSS is a “licensed” “provider” under the Services Contract. CSS publicly solicits prospective foster parents and advertises to attract new foster parents. CSS provides professional “services” to the public. In return for its services, CSS receives public funds and the source of those funds are to be disclosed to the public when CSS disseminates information relating to its services under the Services Contract.
CSS operates and maintains facilities that are used by staff and members of the public to carry out CSS’s work under the Services Contract. The Court concludes, therefore, that CSS’s services are public accommodations to be provided consistent with CSS’s covenant under Article XV, § 15.1, which requires CSS to serve all Philadelphians who seek out its services.
This contractual inclusion made it fairly simple for Tucker to reject CSS’s other claims, because by discriminating, CSS was not only violating city law, but also the terms of its own contract with the city.