Supreme Court Rules on Philadelphia Case About Gay Adoptions

In this Nov. 5, 2020 file photo, the Supreme Court is seen in Washington. The Supreme Court will take up challenges to controversial Trump administration policies affecting family-planning clinics and immigrants, even though the Biden administration has announced it is reviewing them. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By Patrick Abdalla

June 16, 2021

The case involves the city’s restrictions on a Catholic group that doesn’t support gay adoptions.

UPDATE: The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 against the City of Philadelphia, saying that non-discrimination laws can be imposed on tax-payer funded services, but that they must be enforced neutrally. Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David responded: “Though today’s decision is not a complete victory, it does not negate the fact that every qualified family is valid and worthy—children deserve a loving, caring, committed home.”

Can a government refuse to work with a private organization over that group’s stance on LGBTQ issues? The Supreme Court of the United States could answer that question this week when it rules on a case out of Philadelphia.

The Case

Catholic Social Services is an organization that offers many services, including foster care, in Philadelphia. It has been a private contractor with the city for five decades, helping put thousands of foster kids into homes.

The organization won’t certify same-sex couples as foster parents on religious grounds. 

In March 2018, city officials said they wouldn’t work with groups that discriminate based on sexuality when it comes to adoptions.

Sharonell Fulton, a woman who has fostered more than 40 kids over 25 years through CSS, is the lead plaintiff in the case.

The Issue

Same-sex parents can adopt children in all 50 states. Adoptions by same-sex couples have tripled since the 1990s, according to census data

Pennsylvania is one of 18 states that does not have a law or regulations prohibiting discrimination in foster care based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to Movement Advancement Project.

Eleven states allow state-licensed child welfare agencies to refuse to provides services for same-sex couples if doing so conflicts with their religious beliefs. Pennsylvania does not have laws or regulations on the books to address that.

Philadelphia works with about 30 agencies to certify parents for fostering, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer

Fulton v. City of Philadelphia boils down to whether the city government infringed on the private organization’s First Amendment rights. A lower court ruling said the regulation did not because the ruling didn’t target the group specifically, but affected everyone.  

While oral arguments before the Supreme Court normally take an hour, this case’s arguments went on for nearly two hours in November.

What the Justices Have Said So Far

“Shouldn’t the city get to strike the balance as it wishes when it comes to setting the conditions for participating in what is after all it’s foster program,” asked Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts. 

“What is dangerous is the idea that a contractor with a religious belief could come in and, say, exclude other religions from being certifying families, exclude someone with a disability,” said Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “How do we avoid that? Or (if they) exclude interracial couples.”

When Will We Know how the Court Rules

The court issues rulings at 10 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays in June. It has already announced several rulings this month, but has several cases remaining, including Fulton v. Philadelphia. 

The court is also expected to rule this month on another Pennsylvania-connected case. That one pitted an angry cheerleader against her school.


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