The State Journal-Register is reporting that Illinois Senator Kyle McCarter has introduced a bill that will amend the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act to allow religious-based child-welfare agencies and those operated or owned by a religious organization to refer such couples to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for other adoption and foster care options.
McCarter's legislation, SB2495, was introduced in response to a high-profile legal battle currently taking place between Catholic Charities agencies and the state that erupted almost immediately after the passage of a new civil unions law in June of this year. The new law basically bars faith-based agencies from contracting with the state to provide adoption services because they refuse to place children with same-sex parents. Catholic Charities in four dioceses, Belleville, Springfield, Peoria and Joliet are now seeking a stay in court that will allow children who need foster homes to still be referred to them.
However, McCarter's bill could be a game-changer. It stipulates that religious-based child-welfare agencies can deny adoption or foster home applications to individuals in civil unions “if acceptance of that application would constitute a violation of the organization’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”
SB2495 is said to have a good chance of passing. “I do believe that if it’s sent to the floor, there’s enough votes to pass it in the House and the Senate,” McCarter told the State-Journal. “Catholic Charities is responsible for a majority of adoptions and placements of foster kids in southern Illinois, and they do it for a fraction of the cost, and they do it with an extreme amount of compassion.”
The Civil Rights Agenda, an Illinois gay activist group, is calling SB2495 “anti-gay.”
“We have seen this bill before in the House of Representatives,” executive director Anthony Martinez said in a news release. “Obviously, the civil institutions behind this affront to LGBT civil rights are not backing down. We will not either. We had hoped to kill this bill quietly as has been done in the past. Unfortunately, that strategy is no longer an option and our opposition has now been galvanized.”
The group has accused McCarter of introducing the bill for political reasons.
Attorney Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, which is representing Catholic Charities, praised the bill.
“The people of Illinois do not want to see Catholic Charities and other religious-based foster care agencies driven out of business, period,” he said in a statement. “Lawmakers intended when they passed the civil union law to protect religious groups from compromising their beliefs regarding civil unions”
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