A Christian adoption agency is suing the state of New York for the right to discriminate against same-sex couples.
New Hope Family Services, based in Syracuse, is being represented by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), an anti-LGBTQ hate group that resists LGBTQ equality in court cases across the country.
ADF filed the federal lawsuit Friday, claiming the state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) was infringing on New Hope’s religious freedom by requiring it to serve all families equally. The complaint asks a judge to enjoin OCFS’s nondiscrimination policy and declare it unconstitutional.
OCFS recently conducted an audit of New Hope, and found its policy manual discriminates against unmarried couples and same-sex couples. It lays out, for example, this process for handling an inquiry from a same-sex couple:
If the person inquiring to adopt is in a marriage with a same-sex partner, please get all of their information and tell them that the Executive Director will call them within the next 5 business days. (The Executive Director will talk to them and explain that because New Hope is a Christian ministry, we do not place children with same-sex couples.)
The lawsuit argues that because of the way the discriminatory policies are implemented, “New Hope has never denied an unmarried couple or same-sex couple’s application.” It simply tells them not to bother submitting an application in the first place.
State officials have made clear that such a policy is “discriminatory and impermissible” under OCFS regulations, which prohibit adoption agencies from considering the marital status of applicants or discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
ADF contends that OCFS did not have the grounds to advance such regulations because nothing in New York state law dictates nondiscrimination protections in child placement services. However, it neglects to recognize the reasons OCFS introduced the rule in the first place.
As OCFS explained in 2013:
The amendments also promote fairness and equality in the child welfare adoption program by eliminating archaic regulatory language that implies the sexual orientation of gay, lesbian, and bisexual prospective adoptive parents — but not of heterosexual prospective adoptive parents — is relevant to evaluating their appropriateness as adoptive parents.
Moreover, OCFS is charged with the welfare of children, and protecting the children of same-sex couples accomplishes that.
New Hope disagrees with this, stating in its complaint that, despite overwhelming evidence same-sex couples are equally as effective parents as different-sex couples, the OCFS regulations demonstrate a “hostility toward New Hope’s religious beliefs about marriage and the best family environment for children.”
New Hope also contends that it will “lose some of its clients, including birthmothers, adoptive families, and foster families” if it is unable to practice its anti-gay religious beliefs.
In an October phone call, Suzanne Colligan of OCFS reportedly told New Hope’s interim executive director Judy Geyer that if the agency did not update its policies, as other Christian ministries have agreed to do, it would be “choosing to close.” In response, Geyer turned the blame on OCFS, saying if it shuttered its doors, it would be the state’s fault.
Catholic Charities of Buffalo was faced with a similar choice in August. Ultimately, the organization, announced — over the objection of most of its staff — that it would suspend its adoption work rather than serve same-sex couples. Catholic Charities in other states have also threatened to close in an attempt to stymie same-sex couples.
New Hope’s complaint bears a strong resemblance to a case in Philadelphia earlier this year, in which the city likewise told several adoption agencies that their anti-gay policies violated city laws and the terms of their contracts. Catholic Social Services decided to sue rather than comply, but a federal judge found no merit to their case. The organization appealed that ruling up to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost.