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The Supremes

SCOTUS rules 9-0 in favor of religious freedom in same-sex adoption case

The case does not appear to dictate any changes in LGBT rights across the country.

The present U.S. Supreme Court justices // Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Left-wing LGBT activists are uncharacteristically quiet after the United States Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling on Thursday in the pinnacle case of Fulton vs The City of Philadelphia in favor of religious freedoms.

The case involved the rights of faith-based adoption agencies to place foster children in homes of their choosing. The city of Philadelphia and state of Pennsylvania held contracts with many private groups that helped find and secure housing for foster children in the system. One such group was Catholic Social Services (CSS). When the city discovered CSS had denied placement of foster children with same-sex couples, the contracts with the Catholic organization were not renewed. The city claimed CSS was in violation of city ordinances on discrimination. CSS fought back suing the city and stating they had a constitutional right to follow their religious beliefs and convictions. The unanimous Supreme Court ruling sided with CSS and upheld the charity’s right to exercise their religion freely.

Many news outlets praised the decision as a good compromise. Yahoo! News reports that Chief Justice Roberts settled on a narrower scope to the court’s ruling in hopes to garner the support of the more liberal justices. “That kind of consensus-building on the high court, with a potentially divisive case decided narrowly and with the broadest possible consensus, is a welcome model of how to govern in a dangerously polarized time,” the outlet reported.

NBC Out reports, “Experts say the ruling was much narrower in scope than it could have been. The court could have ruled that religious social services providers contracted by governments are broadly exempt from nondiscrimination laws, which would have allowed them to refuse to serve LGBTQ people, among other groups.” The outlet later clarifies, “The court noted in its opinion that Catholic Social Services didn’t actually turn away any LGBTQ couples.”

The fact is that CSS has been very consistent in how their religious beliefs inform decisions on foster child placement. In the opinion penned by Chief Justice Roberts, he lays out very plainly how CCS decided on the acceptability of foster parents, explaining how CSS would never “refuse to serve LGBTQ people” en masse.

“The religious views of CSS inform its work in this system. CSS believes that ‘marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman.’ Because the agency understands the certification of prospective foster families to be an endorsement of their relationships, it will not certify un-married couples—regardless of their sexual orientation—or same-sex married couples.  CSS does not object to certifying gay or lesbian individuals as single foster parents or to placing gay and lesbian children,” the opinion reads.

The case does not appear to dictate any changes in LGBT rights across the country. The narrow scope of this decision only impacts the city of Philadelphia. Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University, told NBC Out, “You have this kind of very specific decision that hones in on the city of Philadelphia’s policy and how it was implemented, rather than a recrafting of rules across the board.” Kreis continued, “As a consequence, this really doesn’t imperil all LGBTQ rights or civil rights, generally across the board, whether it be public accommodations or housing or employment.”

In a similar case from 1990, Employment Division vs. Smith, the court decided that if secular organizations are not allowed to discriminate, then the same rule must apply to religious organizations. Many expected Fulton to overturn the ruling made in the Smith case, but it seems the court decided to kick the can down the road instead of taking any firm or broad action on either of those cases.

According to Vox, the indecision is most likely due to an inability of the justices to wager what should replace the Smith ruling if it were to be overturned. Justice Amy Coney Barrett said, “There would be a number of issues to work through if Smith were overruled… Should entities like Catholic Social Services—which is an arm of the Catholic Church—be treated differently than individuals?” 

LGBTs have no problem adopting children in the U.S. There are roughly 440,000 children in the country living in foster care awaiting adoption. No state prohibits same-sex couples from adopting. 40 percent of all adoption agencies and 83 percent of public agencies report adopting at least one child to a same-sex couple.

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