Illinois Catholic Charities Drop Lawsuit Against State Over Gay Adoption, Foster Care

The months-long legal saga in Illinois concerning whether several Catholic Charities agencies can continue to deny adoption and foster care placements to same-sex parents while still receiving state funding appears to be coming to an end.

On Monday, the Thomas More Society, the law firm representing Catholic Charities agencies in their fight with the state, announced it will file a motion to dismiss their lawsuit because they claim "the actions of the State have prevented the Charities from being able to obtain relief from the Illinois court system."

Because the state already began transferring the charities' case load to other agencies willing to work with same-sex couples months ago, the agency says even a future court decision in favor of their appeal would come "too late." According to an AP report, it had become financially impossible for the charities to continue to pursue the case.

Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society described the "dismantling" of the charities' foster care ministry as "a tragic end to 90 years of foster care service by some of the most effective child welfare agencies in Illinois."

"The Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act only passed after specific assurances that the law would not impact the work of religious social service agencies," Breen said. "Specific protections for these agencies were written into the law, but unfortunately, Illinois officials refused to abide by those protections."

Earlier this year, the state moved to cancel $30.6 million worth of contracts with the charities because they were not following state non-discrimination laws in denying adoption and foster care placements for couples entered into the state's newly-approved civil union law. The charities -- in Peoria, Joliet, Springfield and Bellville -- argued that they shouldn't be forced to place children in families whose lives don't align with Catholic teaching, namely unmarried couples.

Judges at the circuit and appellate levels ultimately agreed with the state in the lawsuit, originally filed in June.

Breen further suggested that the Illinois charities' struggle with the state should serve as a warning to faith-based organizations in other states considering same-sex relationship recognition legislation going forward.

"This stands as a stark lesson to the rest of the nation that legislators promising ‘religious protection’ in same sex marriage and civil union laws may not be able to deliver on those promises," Breen said.

Anthony Martinez, executive director of Illinois LGBT advocacy group The Civil Rights Agenda, said in a statement that the charities dropping the lawsuit "is a step in the right direction for what is best for all the citizens of this great state."

"This case and the legislation that has been introduced multiple times this year is all about prioritizing religion over what is best for the children in their care," Martinez said. "Finding a loving home for the thousands of children in the foster/adoption system should be the priority, not trying to exclude people based on religious dogma."

In September, Circuit Judge John Schmidt reiterated his previous ruling against the agencies and denied their request for a stay. Schmidt also refused to reconsider his decision. Two Catholic bishops, representing dioceses in Peoria and Springfield, condemned the decision as marking "a sad day for the children of Illinois" and a sign that "the state was "basically at war with the Catholic community and seem to be destroying their institutions."

It is as yet unclear what impact the charities' motion to dismiss its case against the state will have against that pending legislation, which LGBT leaders described as "unacceptable" and "an affront to LGBT civil rights."