Catholic agency argues in court to refer same-sex couples to city's other foster care agencies

Cherri Gregg
November 10, 2018 - 4:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit heard oral arguments this week over whether the City of Philadelphia should be forced to renew its foster care contract with a religious agency that refuses to place children with LGBT couples. 

The case involves the appeal of a lower court decision finding that the City of Philadelphia did not violate religious rights of Catholic Social Services (CSS) of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, when the city suspended the agency's foster care contract for violation of its non-discrimination policy.

RELATED: Catholic agency fights for right to exclude same-sex couples from foster care

"Unfortunately, the city has really dug in its heels," said Laurie Windham, an attorney who represents plaintiffs Sharonell Fulton and CSS. She argued before the three-judge panel that the agency would simply refer all LGBT couples, unmarried heterosexual couples, or other couples with special needs to one of the 29 agencies also in contract with the city to perform home studies. 

"Catholic Social Services wants to continue to serve children in Philadelphia, and they are really hopeful that they can continue to do that," said Windham, who noted that the city has in the past compromised with CSS around its religious beliefs. "The city has said there is no compromise, and that is unfortunate."

Currently, the agency still has contracts with the city to provide other services. According to arguments in court, those contracts total $17 million.  

The city is, however, requiring that all foster care contractors comply fully with the non-discrimination policy, which would require that CSS place foster children in homes of qualified LGBT couples. 

"The case was well argued on both sides," said Marcel Pratt, city solicitor. "The city is proud to stand behind its anti-discrimination policies across the board." 

The ACLU of Pennsylvania also provided oral arguments. CSS argued that the City of Philadelphia should renew its contract — as it has done over the past five decades — and to do otherwise would impose on the agency's free exercise of religion.

There has been no word yet on when the appeals court will rule.