Respect Equality

LGBTQ families, advocates await Supreme Court decision on adoption

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Story at a glance

  • The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in a case over religious foster care agencies discriminating against same-sex couples.
  • The case pits religious conservatives and those who don’t believe in same-sex marriage against the LGBTQ+ community.
  • LGBTQ youth are over-represented in the foster care system compared to cisgender and heterosexual youth.

Since the day after the last presidential election, LGBTQ parents and hopefuls have been on edge, waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether they can have a family of their own. 

Last November, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case brought by a taxpayer-funded, religious-affiliated foster care agency seeking to reject same sex couples as foster parents. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the lower courts, ruling in favor of Philadelphia, in April of 2019, but the Supreme Court granted a request for a writ of certiorari, or a review, of the decision. 

The case was one of the earliest heard this judicial term, which generally ends before July 4, and the court has already delivered opinions in four other cases. With a decision expected any day now, the lives of not only potential parents but also the LGBTQ youth who are over-represented in the foster care system hang in the balance. 


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“LGBTQ families are no different from other families,” said John Freml, the father of a 5-year-old son, Riley, and a 7-year-old daughter, Jordan. “We have the same desire to connect and to love. It’s heartbreaking and unjust to watch faith-based agencies refuse to place children with families like mine, especially given the large numbers of children who need loving homes. My prayer is that the Supreme Court will recognize that any agency that discriminates against same-sex couples has no right to taxpayer funding.”

The Supreme Court is also considering several other cases involving religious freedom, including two cases over state laws governing abortion. After initial arguments last fall, an analysis by SCOTUSblog noted that the judges seemed hesitant to overrule the court’s 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith establishing that government actions do not violate the Constitution’s free exercise clause as long as they are neutral and apply to everyone.


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Leslie Griffin, a law professor at the University of Nevada, was one of more than a 1,000 LGBTQ advocates who filed amicus, or friend-of-the-court, briefs in the case along with lawmakers, several organizations and former foster youth for whom there were not enough available families. 

“In my mind discrimination is discrimination. It’s not a good thing and it’s not something that the laws of the United States should uphold,” said Griffin during a panel discussion on Thursday. “When people were debating interracial marriage, a lot of religions said you couldn’t have interracial marriage. The old religions supported slavery and were not for racial equality – and the courts gradually moved away from that.”


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