August 31, 2018 at 1:41 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Supreme Court rebuffs Catholic agency seeking to reject LGBT couples
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The U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed a Catholic agency seeking to deny placement to LGBT homes. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take action in a case in which a taxpayer-funded Catholic adoption agency is seeking a First Amendment right to deny child placement to LGBT homes for religious reasons.

In an order handed down Thursday in the case of Fulton v. Philadelphia, the court announced it wouldn’t grant injunctive relief to Catholic Social Services, which is contesting a Philadelphia policy barring anti-LGBT discrimination among adoption agencies.

An emergency petition was filed before the U.S. Associate Justice Samuel Alito, who referred the matter to the entire court. Although the vote isn’t recorded, the order notes Alito as well as U.S. Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch would have granted the application for relief. (Notably, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts isn’t among those justices.)

The Becket Fund — a organization that takes up religious freedom lawsuits, such as the Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases — had filed the petition before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing Catholic adoption agencies would have to close under the Philadelphia policy.

“The city has excluded Catholic and its families from foster care because the City disagrees with the Catholic Church’s views about same-sex marriage,” the petition says. “Same-sex unions have been recognized in Philadelphia for two decades, and the city is unaware of a single person who has been hurt by Catholic’s views. But the City is closing Catholic’s program over a hypothetical question: Whether the Catholic Church could endorse same-sex unions in writing, if a same-sex couple approached a Catholic agency seeking its written opinion on their family relationships.”

After the city of Philadelphia learned in March 2018 two of its Catholic foster care providers wouldn’t license same-sex couples as foster parents, the city decided to stop referring children to these agencies.

Upon the learning of that policy, Catholic Social Services and four of its foster parents sought injunctive relief, asserting a freedom of speech and freedom of religion right under the First Amendment to deny placement to LGBT homes.

After the a federal district court denied the request for a preliminary injunction, the legal firm sought injunctive relief from the Supreme Court. The order from the Supreme Court on Thursday was the result of that request.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, hailed the decision by the Supreme Court as a victory.

“No child should ever be denied a safe and happy home because of who their qualified prospective parents or guardians are,” Warbelow said. “In a nation of over 400,000 foster children, it is inexcusable that some would choose to play politics rather than prioritize the security and well-being of children in need of a loving family. In declining to intervene, the Supreme Court allowed the City of Philadelphia to act in the best interest of children in need.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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