In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took legal action against the state of Michigan for working with Saint Vincent Catholic Charities (SVCC). The ACLU sued the state because SVCC, a faith-based Christian organization that works to match suitable foster and adoptive parents with children who are desperately in need of a stable home, refuses to consider prospective LGBTQ guardians. This year, The Wolverine state capitulated and agreed to stop funding SVCC and related religious organizations.
At TQC, we believe that prospective LGBTQ parents should be able to foster and adopt children. However, our position is that the ACLU’s litigation is wrong. The true subjects of “discrimination” in this case are not prospective LGBTQ parents. Orphaned children or those who have been placed in foster care remain among America’s most vulnerable demographic, more so than the prospective LGBTQ parents that the SVCC and others like it are refusing to engage. These children desperately need to be placed in stable households. The ACLU’s lawsuit neuters an effective agent working on their behalf to facilitate this.
Unfortunately, this case is just a microcosm of a growing trend in America; similar lawsuits have been brought against faith-based organizations throughout the United States for identical forms of “discrimination.”
Even if the ACLU’s case is not overturned, it is worth noting that it won’t materially impact adoption rates in more liberal, secular parts of America. In these states, there are many nonreligious organizations with a mandate to connect children in need with willing guardians, irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation. (A few Christian organizations do in fact place children in nontraditional homes.) We support this as it makes sense: LGBTQ parents are disproportionately willing to foster and adopt children when compared to their heterosexual peers. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, “of the 114,000 same-sex couples raising children in America, 25% of them are bringing up adopted or fostered ones, compared with 3% of heterosexual couples with children.”
However, in the South, Christian organizations effect a disproportionate number of adoptions. If faith-based organizations are forced to shutter their doors, there will be fewer adoptions in this part of America. And children, hard up for no reason other than bad luck, will be dealt another bad hand. Indeed, according to The Economist: “in the South… Christian organizations have undoubtedly played a huge role in finding homes for children who cannot live with their own families…Many religious agencies recruit in churches with great success…Christians were twice as likely to have adopted children as other Americans. Although some Christians would doubtless adopt and foster children from secular agencies if no religious ones existed, others would not…”
Religious Freedom vs Discrimination
Many devout Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other religious groups reject the concept of, and refuse to facilitate LGBTQ adoptions. We understand this position and believe it is absolutely valid. However, it dovetails into important questions: When does freedom of religion disenfranchise certain minorities – in this case prospective LGBTQ adopters - and what is an appropriate inflection point when accommodation begins to impinge on religious liberties?
Clearly, this is a sensitive issue, which needs to addressed objectively and holistically, in an effort to reach a common ground. To contextualize our argument, let’s use a “real life” example. Suppose competitive businesses offer similar goods or services. Assume a select few of these business owners refuse to provide this good or service to LGBTQ customers, because doing so could facilitate behavior that violates their religious beliefs. In our view, the next logical step would be to consider: How much of a burden would it place on an LGBTQ subject seeking that merchandise to obtain it from an alternative vendor?
If there are many other businesses that offer the same (or similar) product or services, owners of businesses whose religious beliefs prevent them from willfully selling a product to an LBGTQ customer should not have to violate their principles and provide that service. Certain faith-based organizations’ religiously driven adoption policies do not create an unreasonable burden for nontraditional parents to adopt, they can still do so via almost any other channel. However, if there are none or only a few alternatives, businesses should have to capitulate and offer their services. There is no perfect solution. In our view, this compromise is the most equitable.
Whether or not somebody is straight, gay, married, unmarried etc. bears little relevance on one's ability to be a good (or bad) parent. Some heterosexual married couples are exemplary parents; some are terrible. Some nontraditional couples are awful parents; some are wonderful. Indeed, being married (or unmarried), straight or gay, etc., is mutually exclusive from providing a child love, stability and support in a safe environment.
Religious freedom is one of the key tenets of our democracy. Many observant people or faith-based organizations do not support non-traditional relationships let alone adoptions in those families, define marriage as a pact between a man and a woman, and are pro-life. They are entitled to espouse these values. But faith is not an excuse to hurt, intimidate or unduly impose their will on somebody whose views aren’t commensurate with their own; that is where we draw the line on religious freedom.
Adopting the Wrong Policy
The ACLU was incorrect and wasted money and human capital by suing the state of Michigan for working with SVCC. Christian organizations play a vital role in many parts of America matching children in need with traditional families qualified to fill this void. Wouldn’t orphans be better served if the ACLU re-allocated the time and money used to cripple SVCC and Christian organizations across America and instead channeled those funds to start an adoption agency? Vulnerable children in desperate need of a home would be much better served this way.