Supreme Court foster care ruling raises new questions on religion

WASHINGTON – After a series of landmark victories at the Supreme Court in recent years, LGBTQ advocates were dealt a blow this week when the justices sided with a Catholic group that declined to consider same-sex couples as foster parents. 

While the outcome of the Philadelphia foster care dispute was not a surprise, the unanimous decision opened a debate about its impact in other areas of the law where the First Amendment’s protection of religion comes into conflict with policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

One point on which advocates on both sides of the issue agreed: Fulton v. Philadelphia will prompt new litigation testing when religious groups may choose to treat LGBTQ Americans differently, and when they are prohibited from doing so. 

“Until today we have seen a string of Supreme Court decisions upholding equality,” said Currey Cook, senior counsel at the LGBTQ advocacy group Lambda Legal. “But it’s clear as day that organizations that want to be able to discriminate against LGBTQ people … are trying to use religious freedom as the vehicle to get there.” 

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Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia said its religious views keep it from screening same-sex couples as potential foster parents. The City of Philadelphia, which contracted with the Catholic group to do that work, countered that all of its foster care agencies are required to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

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