Washington, D.C. – Efforts by Philadelphia officials to eradicate anti-LGBT bias within the city’s foster-care system remain at risk, after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week about the contentious dispute. City officials want to phase out a foster-care contract with Catholic Social Services because the agency refuses to help place foster-care children with same-sex couples. City officials say that’s a violation of the city’s antibias policies. CSS maintains the city is violating its religious-freedom rights.
Philadelphia has contracts with about 30 agencies that provide foster-care services for about 5,000 children in the city’s custody. In March 2018, the city halted foster-child referrals to CSS, after published reports of CSS’ anti-LGBT policies. CSS currently provides foster-care services for 25 children who were referred to CSS prior to March 2018. When those children reach adulthood, CSS may have no foster children to serve. With the help of Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, CSS filed a federal lawsuit against the city in May 2018. After CSS lost on the district-court and appellate-court levels, the agency took its case to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Nov. 4, the high court pondered whether to reverse the appellate court’s ruling and force the city to refer foster children to CSS despite the agency’s anti-LGBT policies.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett M. Kavanaugh appeared to be the most hostile to the city’s position. Kavanaugh called the city’s position “absolutist and extreme.” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. also appeared hostile to the city’s position. “If we are honest about what’s really going on here, it’s not about ensuring that same-sex couples in Philadelphia have the opportunity to be foster parents,” Alito declared. “It’s the fact the city can’t stand the message that Catholic Social Services and the Archdiocese are sending by continuing to adhere to the old fashion view about marriage.” Justice Sonia M. Sontamayor and Elena Kagan appeared sympathetic to the city’s position, repeatedly referring to the importance of antibias laws and how those laws help ensure fair treatment for everyone, including women and racial minorities. Patricia B. Palacios, a D.C.-based attorney, said “[t]he remaining three conservative judges, including [Amy Coney] Barrett, asked questions that were tough on both sides. So, it is difficult to predict the end result. There is reason to hope that Chief Justice [John] Roberts and Justice [Neil M.] Gorsuch will side with the city given that they sided with the more liberal justices in the court’s recent gay-rights decision.” (Philadelphia Gay News – Tim Cwiek at https://epgn.com/2020/11/04/supreme-court-hears-arguments-on-citys-foster-care-dispute/)
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