Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Springfield-in-Illinois et al. v. Illinois et al.
On June 1, 2011, the Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act became effective in Illinois, providing couples who choose to enter into a civil union the rights and responsibilities of marriage on a state level. Four Dioceses of Catholic Charities refused to follow state law and declined to process the foster care license applications for couples in civil unions. These agencies claimed that they were exempt from state nondiscrimination requirements on religious grounds even though they provided state-funded social services for youth in state care.
Represented by the Thomas More Society, four Dioceses of Catholic Charities (Springfield, Peoria, Joliet and Rockford) filed suit on June 7, 2011, seeking to force the state to continue to fund their foster care services. In July 2011, the dioceses' contracts to provide foster care services expired and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services declined to renew them. On August 15, 2011, Lambda Legal filed an amicus brief on behalf of several child welfare organizations including the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, the National Association of Social Workers, and NASW's Illinois chapter.
In its brief, Lambda Legal argues that allowing the dioceses to exclude couples in civil unions from the foster parent application process would diminish the pool of loving, permanent homes for children in need. Illinois child welfare law and policies require that child placement decisions be made in accordance with each child's unique needs, and forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status. Governing professional and ethical standards for child welfare professionals also prohibit the intrusion of bias into child placement determinations. Additionally, the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution constrains the state from funding social service providers who use the dictates of a particular religion to determine who qualifies for services.
The dioceses' refusal to license gay and lesbian prospective foster parents sends a message of exclusion, not only to the couples themselves, but to lesbian and gay youth in state care, who are particularly vulnerable. Gay, lesbian, transgender, and gender-nonconforming adolescents are disproportionately represented in foster care populations because they often experience rejection by their own families. If the dioceses' lawsuit succeeds, these children would be told by the authorities caring for them and by their government that they are morally unworthy ever of forming families of their own, and that their future relationships in adulthood—no matter how loving, how committed, or how responsible—will be inferior to those in other families.
- January 2011 Governor Pat Quinn signs the Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act into law.
- April 2011 Catholic Charities lobbies for passage of SB 1123, an amendment to the Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act that would exempt child welfare social services from coverage under Illinois' non-discrimination law. A state senate committee voted down the amendment, and it never received a vote on the floor of either legislative body.
- June 1, 2011 The Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act is implemented in Illinois.
- June 7, 2011 Four dioceses of Catholic Charities (Springfield, Peoria, Joliet and Rockford) file suit seeking to force the state to renew their annual contracts despite their refusal to consider couples in civil unions as prospective foster parents.
- July 2011 The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services declines to renew its foster care contracts with four Dioceses of Catholic Charities after these dioceses refused to abide by Illinois and federal law that mandates child placement determinations be made based on a case-by-case evaluation of each child's best interests, and that forbid state-funded social service providers from excluding people from services for religious reasons.
- August 1, 2011 The ACLU moves to intervene in the case on behalf of a class of foster children and two members of a civil union who wish to become foster parents.
- August 15, 2011 Lambda Legal files an amicus brief on behalf of several child welfare organizations including the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, the National Association of Social Workers and NASW's Illinois chapter.
- August 18, 2011 Court dismisses Catholic Charities lawsuit on the ground that Catholic Charities has no right to a renewed state contract on terms other than those agreed to by the state.
Richard D. Felice of Wheaton, Illinois, and Rhonda K. Jenkins of Springfield, Illinois.