Philly Agencies Can’t Discriminate Against LGBTQ Parents

As the U.S. House Appropriations Committee attempts to make it legal to discriminate against LGBTQ foster parents, a federal district court in Philadelphia last week issued a historic decision upholding strict adherence to anti-discrimination laws. Judge Petrese B. Tucker ruled that foster care agencies receiving public funds cannot discriminate against LGBTQ couples or others on the basis of religious belief.

The case came about when child welfare agency Catholic Social Services (CSS) sued Philadelphia, claiming the city had violated its religious and free speech rights.  Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services (DHS) had stopped placing children with CSS upon learning that the agency was using discriminatory intake processes to deny services to potential LGBTQ foster parents.

By discriminating against LGBTQ couples, Judge Tucker wrote, CSS violated Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance, which explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The court denied CSS’s request for a preliminary injunction, noting that CSS received “significant public funds” to “perform governmental functions for DHS and Philadelphia,” and that DHS therefore has a legal right to ensure that CSS does not engage in discriminatory practices.

The ruling also emphasized the city’s need to uphold diversity in foster care placements:  “DHS and Philadelphia have a legitimate interest in ensuring that the pool of foster parents and resource caregivers is as diverse and broad as the children in need of foster parents and resource caregivers.”

Children’s Rights has long advocated for the importance of actively recruiting LGBTQ foster parents to provide loving homes, not only to follow anti-discrimination laws but also to improve the lives of LGBTQ children in the child welfare system. As our lead counsel Christina Remlin recently told Mic, we must always consider the ramifications of discriminatory practices on children in the system:

“When you have a provider agency that espouses intolerant views and promulgates them and stands by them, that kind of culture tends to permeate down to the foster parent and adoptive parent level, so that around the kitchen table at breakfast, you have a situation in which foster parents are espousing the belief that, for example, being gay means that you should be sent to hell,” Remlin said.

In light of recent discriminatory actions at the federal level, the court’s ruling is even more significant. Just last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved Rep. Robert B. Aderholt’s amendment to a House funding bill that would prohibit state governments from taking action against faith-based agencies that discriminate against potential LGBTQ foster parents. The amendment mandates that the federal government punish such states by withholding 15% of their federal funding for child welfare services.

While the Philadelphia court’s decision is a victory—for LGBTQ foster parents, children, and the community—it is now up to the House of Representatives to decide whether the Aderholt amendment will move forward. Follow Children’s Rights and the hashtag #LicensetoDiscriminate for the latest updates.