Catholic Charities responded to the city's action by suing, claiming that it is the subject of discrimination...on the basis of its religious beliefs. So far, it has lost. This conflict is one of many across the country, as organizations and individuals assert a constitutional right to discriminate or seek a legislative right to do so. The Movement Advancement Project does a good job of tracking existing and pending actions.
But as this article explains, Catholic Charities continues to serve as a community umbrella agency working with children in foster care and their families. The city has not cancelled that contract. Here is the map that shows how much of the city lies within Catholic Charities' purview. In its function as a community umbrella agency, Catholic Charities provides case management services that determine whether a child, once removed from parents, is returned to their care. Reunification services can be the most critical component of determining a child's fate. If an agency determines that a parent should attend classes, mental health counseling, or job placement services, the parent's failure to do any of those things can lead to termination of parental rights. If an agency sets up a parent's visitation with her child at a particular place on a particular day, the parent's failure to attend can lead to termination of parental rights. That the services may be unnecessary; that the schedule might conflict with a parent's job, or care responsibilities for other children, or other appointments for housing assistance or some other necessity; those things may turn out to be irrelevant. The power of the supervising agency to set the rules and then determine if they have been broken is, literally, awesome.
So what's the problem? Aside from the unreasonable demands frequently placed on all parents of children in foster care, some of those parents are LGBT and have same-sex partners or ex-partners. Catholic Charities admits it will not license same-sex couples as foster or adoptive parents. We should assume that the agency thinks equally badly about the parents in same-sex couples trying to get their children back from foster care. The power to supervise families with children in state care is the power to determine where those children end up. If Catholic Charities wants those children in an adoptive home with a married mom and dad, or in a kinship home with a homophobic relative, that is where they will end up. No case manager has to state up front that the child will not go home to a lesbian mother; there are just so many ways to achieve that result without being direct.
The case manager can also place the child in a foster home that denigrates LGBT individuals and same-sex couples. Heck, the case manager can place an LGBTQ child in a foster home that denigrates LGBT individuals and same-sex couples. THAT is a lot of power.
The subject of LGBT parents whose children are removed by the state has not made it to the top (or even the middle or the bottom) of the agenda of any LGBT advocacy organization. This even though the one research study looking at the sexual orientation of parents who lost their children found that, among low-income Black mothers, those who identified as lesbian or bisexual were over four times more likely than those who identified as heterosexual to have lost their children to the state. Well those parents are at the top of my agenda, and my article about them, Neglected Lesbian Mothers, will be out shortly in the Family Law Quarterly.
There's a lot that LGBT advocates could be doing. But with an organized effort underway to stop agencies from discriminating against LGBT foster and adoptive parents it should be a small, but hugely significant step, to add to the demands that no agency that refuses to license gay people as foster parents should be able to supervise families with children in foster care where either a parent or the child is LGBT. I'm talking about YOU, Philadelphia Catholic Charities.