Supreme Court to hear Philadelphia fight over same-sex foster parents

Supreme Court to hear Philadelphia fight over same-sex foster parents
© Aaron Schwartz

The Supreme Court will decide whether Philadelphia is allowed to exclude Catholic services that refused to allow same-sex couples to become foster parents from the city's foster care system.

The court announced on Monday that it would hear the lawsuit brought by Catholic Social Services (CSS) and three foster parents against the city in 2018.

CSS contends that Philadelphia is violating the First Amendment by excluding the group over its religious beliefs. In a filing with the court last year, the group pointed out that there are other foster services that contract with the city that same-sex couples can use and that CSS has never turned away potential foster parents based on their sexual orientation.

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The city contends that it should be able to set terms for services that it contracts with, especially when it comes to prohibiting discrimination.

Both the federal district court in Philadelphia and the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the city, denying CSS's request for a preliminary injunction and ruling that Philadelphia had not acted out of hostility toward the group's religious beliefs.

“The City of Philadelphia is proud of our longstanding commitment to supporting freedom of religion and preserving equal access to services for all people – regardless of their race, national origin, religion, age, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity," City Solicitor Marcel Pratt said in a statement. "Abiding by that commitment is central to any contract that the City enters into.

"Unfortunately, CSS refused to consider qualified same-sex couples to become foster parents – even when these couples would be a safe, loving family for the child – and in doing so, CSS defied the City’s nondiscrimination policy, as reflected in its original contract and reaffirmed in the most recent contract offered to all foster care providers," Pratt added.

Leslie Cooper, the deputy director of the LGBT and HIV Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing a pair of groups siding with Philadelphia in the case, said in a statement that the lawsuit could have widespread effects on the nation's foster systems.

"We already have a severe shortage of foster families willing and able to open their hearts and homes to these children," Cooper said. "Allowing foster care agencies to exclude qualified families based on religious requirements that have nothing to do with the ability to care for a child such as their sexual orientation or faith would make it even worse. We can’t afford to have loving families turned away or deterred by the risk of discrimination."

Updated at 11 a.m.