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Lawyer Discusses Supreme Court Ruling On LGBTQ Foster Parents


On the issue of foster care for same-sex couples, members of the U.S. Supreme Court found grounds on which they could be unanimous. All nine justices stood on the side of Catholic Social Services which has a contract with the city of Philadelphia to place children with foster families. Philadelphia cut off that contract because the city has a nondiscrimination clause, and Catholic Social Services declined to certify unmarried couples or same-sex married couples. The court says that was wrong. The charity can express its opposition to same-sex marriage, although the court decided this on very narrow grounds. We begin with Lori Windham, a lawyer for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the Catholic agency. Good morning.

LORI WINDHAM: Good morning, Steve. Glad to be with you.

INSKEEP: What's this ruling mean for - glad you're here. What's this ruling mean for Catholic Social Services?

WINDHAM: This means that Catholic Social Services can continue the great work that it has been doing in Philadelphia for 200 years, helping to partner with families and find homes for foster kids.

INSKEEP: Well, what do you make of the limitations in the ruling, though? Justice Roberts, the chief justice, wrote that the contract with the city with this nondiscrimination clause already allows for some exceptions, so it wasn't really enforceable against this one exception. It's a pretty narrow ruling.

WINDHAM: I think it's actually a broad ruling, especially given the fact that it is a unanimous decision from the Supreme Court saying that Catholic Social Services gets to continue serving. And the entire court signed on to this idea that there are more children, and there are more - there's more availability to place children when Catholic Social Services is able to do this good work. And Philadelphia didn't have a compelling reason for trying to shut them down. And so I think that that language is - shown Philadelphia where the court expects it to go next.

INSKEEP: When you argue that this is a far-reaching decision are you saying that there are, could be or should be other people who want to claim religious exemptions, religious accommodations to federal law and federal discrimination rules?

WINDHAM: We know that there have been foster and adoption agencies that have been shut down across the country in at least five cities and states and are unable to serve families and children. And so those agencies ought to be able to be protected by this ruling, as well, and continue the work they're doing partnering with families to serve their communities.

INSKEEP: Now, we should be clear, Ms. Windham, we're discussing constitutional rights, legal rights here and not necessarily the underlying beliefs, which people have every right to have. But I do want to address the substance, the underlying belief here. You should know that I'm an adoptee. I'm an adoptive parent. I'm very familiar with same adoptive-sex parents, who I would regard as excellent parents. And I'm just reporting here. I'm a reporter. I'm reporting what I've witnessed. If Catholic Social Services looks at a same-sex couple who is - are willing to serve as foster parents, what makes Catholic Social Services conclude they would not be suitable parents?

WINDHAM: Catholic Social Services, because of its religious beliefs about marriage, is not able to certify a relationship with an unmarried couple or a same-sex couple, which is what the government is asking them to do. What they would do in that case - and no same-sex couple had even approached them - but what they would do is refer them to another agency. There are more than two dozen in Philadelphia who would partner with that family to be able to continue to foster or adoption process. So they're not keeping anybody out. The Supreme Court said yesterday they're not imposing their beliefs on everyone. They're just allowing same-sex couples to work with a different agency.

INSKEEP: Although I'm trying to understand why they wouldn't work with that couple. As I understand it, the agency says it would be OK with a single foster parent who might very well be gay or lesbian. What changes when there happen to be two parents in the household?

WINDHAM: The issue that Catholic Social Services can't certify is the relationship either of two unmarried couples living together in the home or a married same-sex couple. And they do have to actually go into someone's home and meet with them, interview them about their relationships and about their family life and then produce a written report based on that. And so they're asking that they not be required to go in and do that very intrusive inquiry and make a certification for a relationship that is not in accord with their religious beliefs.

INSKEEP: So it's not actually about protecting the kids then. It's about the social worker from the Catholic agency who might feel uncomfortable.

WINDHAM: What the Supreme Court said unanimously yesterday is that there are more options for children when Catholic Social Services is able to serve and recognizing that there are over two dozen agencies in Philadelphia that are partnering with same-sex couples today to be able to foster children. You don't have to shut down Catholic Social Services in order to have opportunities for LGBTQ couples to participate in foster care.

INSKEEP: Ms. Windham, thanks for your time I really appreciate it.

WINDHAM: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Lori Windham is a lawyer for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia before the Supreme Court. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.