Illinois’ Catholic Charities Lose Right To Discriminate Against Same-Sex Couples

After Illinois enacted civil unions in June, at least three separate Catholic Charities halted their state adoption and foster care services rather than comply with the new law and place children in same-sex households. The charities also sued the state — which had ended its contracts with the agencies — for an emergency exemption from the law. Yesterday, Sangamon County circuit judge John Schmidt ruled against the organizations, finding that the state did not violate the property rights of the Catholic Charities when it ended its contracts:

“The fact that the Plaintiffs have contracted with the State to provide foster care and adoption services for over forty years does not vest the Plaintiffs with a protected property interest,” Schmidt wrote in the judgment. “The State may refuse to renew the Plaintfiffs’ contracts.”

The charities had claimed that the DCFS decision not to renew contracts was illegal under religious freedom protections and argued that they have a right to continue foster care work without compromising religious practice.

However, attorneys for the state argued that the charities had no right to contracts in the first place, and that it would be illegal for the state to offer contracts that violated civil union law. “The state has the freedom to set the limits of its contracts,” said Deborah Barnes, an attorney with the Office of the Attorney General. “It wasn’t arbitrary and capricious, the ending of this 40-year relationship… the legal landscape has changed.”

The agencies, however, insisted that the civil unions law “protects religious institutions that don’t recognize civil unions” and offered to “refer those couples elsewhere and only license married couples and single parents living alone.” The state responded that the exemption only applied to clergy “who don’t want to officiate at civil unions” and argued that the charities violated “state anti-discrimination laws that demand couples in civil unions be treated the same as married couples.” Judge Schmidt’s decision avoided the question of discrimination and instead focused on property rights.

Before the civil unions bill became law, the Illinois Attorney General was already investigating Catholic Charities of Springfield for allegedly violating the Illinois Human Rights Act and discriminating “against Illinois citizens based on race, marital states and sexual orientation.”