Ill. Lawmaker Seeks Civil Unions Law Exemption for Catholic Charities

by Kilian Melloy
Saturday May 21, 2011

An Illinois state representative has filed a bill to amend the state's recently enacted civil unions law. The amendment would grant an exemption to religious "child welfare agenc[ies]" that would otherwise be required to place needy children with same-sex couples, the Windy City Times reported on May 18.

State Rep. Dwight Kay, a Republican, filed the bill after being asked to do so by two Catholic agencies, Catholic Charities and Catholic Children's Home. The lawmaker used the same language as a bill in the state senate that failed to clear that chamber last month, the article said. The state's civil unions law is scheduled to take effect on June 1.

Agencies affiliated with the Catholic Church that handle adoptions have ceased operating in some areas of the country where marriage equality or civil unions are legal, rather than be required to comply with anti-discrimination laws and place children in homes headed by two adults of the same gender. The Catholic Church teaches that gays do not "choose" their sexual orientation, but also says that gays are "disordered." The Church defines sexual intimacy between consenting adults of the same gender as "inherently evil," and has decried gay parents as inflicting "violence" on their children simply by raising them in homes which may be loving and stable, but are still headed by two men or two women.

"[I]n no way [is the bill intended] to discriminate, but to keep the doors of the Catholic Children Home open," Kay told the Windy City Times. "If this is the only way to that, I am willing to do what it takes."

"Whether it starts in the House or whether it starts in the Senate, this seems to be an attempt to carve out a niche where a state-funded agency can discriminate against one group of citizens," openly gay State Rep. Greg Harris, a Democrat, told the publication. "That is unacceptable."

A counter-argument from the religious side of the debate is that Christians are being subjected to discrimination by laws that do not allow them to opt out as and when their doctrine dictates.

"Hypocritically, the same people who say we're discriminatory are discriminating against us for remaining true to Catholic moral teaching," said Catholic Charities' Carolyn Matheson, in remarks made to the National Catholic Register.

"We'll stand firm, but our deepest concern is that, come June 1, we'll see ourselves with a lawsuit," Matheson added. "Unfortunately, it's vulnerable children and families who will suffer, especially since Catholic Charities is the only child-services provider in many areas."

Matheson said that the attempt to create a legal loophole to benefit religious charities was not a matter of discrimination against gays.

"The spin is that we're anti-gay, but that's not true," Matheson told the Catholic publication. "We're against cohabitation, regardless of sexual orientation, which is in keeping with Catholic teaching. We're not denying anybody the right to adopt or serve as foster parents, but we're not going to process such applications ourselves."

The fact that church and state have some overlap in the area of charitable work proved sticky, however.

"The Church does not have to do anything that violates its beliefs," Equality Illinois head Bernard Cherkasov said. Equality Illinois is a GLBT advocacy group.

"It's that [Church officials] just cannot ask the state to fund their religious activities if they are not willing to comply with the best-interest-of-the-child standard," Cherkasov told the Windy City Times. "If they are not willing to comply, then the public should not fund them. It's clear and simple. They cannot have it both ways."

"A child welfare agency that is religiously based or owned by, operated by, or affiliated with a bona fide religious organization may opt out of fulfilling a request for services, including an adoption or foster family home application, including any licensure and placement, which would constitute a violation of the organization's sincerely held religious doctrines or beliefs," reads the proposed amendment.

The National Catholic Register noted that Catholic-allied charities handle about one-fifth of the foster care cases in the state. The article mirrored the official views of the Catholic Church in its article, which was published May 13.

"Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.... blames politicians for merely reflecting a culture steeped in moral confusion," the article read.

"To be influential in politics, you need to be well-organized and you've got to have money," Gilligan told the religious publication. "The gay community has both, and they are very effective. They've got the sound bites, and they're winning the culture war, persuading people that any form of support for traditional values--for example, that children need the permanency of a loving home with a mother and father--falls under the moniker of discrimination. Just talk to your neighbors and families and see how this sort of confusion has permeated mainstream culture."

An Illinois bishop also adopted a tone of victimization at the hands of gays and their sympathizers.

"Because of the aggressive nature of the stance being taken by the anti-religious elements backing this new law, we expect litigation," Bishop Thomas Paprocki told the National Catholic Register.

"The ACLU and company are promoting an ideology which would force us to do these placements or force us out of the business," the bishop added, going on to note that "there are many opportunities for single-sex couples to work with secular agencies."

The article carried no quotes from GLBT groups or equality advocates.

Anti-gay activists claim that studies support their views on children and families, namely that children thrive best when they are raised by parents of opposite genders. Often, these claims are bolstered by studies of children who grow up in single parent (and heterosexual) homes.

But studies that look at children raised by two attentive and loving parents of the same gender show that those children fare just as well as children with two mixed-gender parents.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • dennis, 2011-05-22 19:31:04

    This is not what Jesus would do who are they to judge others.

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