If a new civil unions law in Illinois shuts down Catholic adoption and foster care programs in the state, it will ultimately be harmful to those children in need, the Catholic Conference of Illinois says.
Conference executive director Robert Gilligan said that an “impending clash between religious liberty and civil unions legislation” in Illinois could halt services provided to children up for adoption or foster care by Catholic charities and other faith-based groups.
On June 1, the state is slated to implement a civil unions law, which will give legal rights and recognition to same-sex or unmarried opposite-sex couples.
In an effort to allow faith-based organizations to continue operating according to their beliefs, local congressmen proposed recent legislation to protect the groups' religious liberty.
However, the measure – titled SB 1123 – was defeated by a one-vote margin when it came before state senators on April 13. The rejection of the bill could cause public funding to be stripped from groups who believe that children should be given homes with one married, heterosexual couple or one single individual.
“The legislation was designed to allow us to continue what we do now which is, have the authority to refer cases to other agencies or back to the state when we find that people are cohabitating,” Gilligan told EWTN News April 14.
“We believe that children are best served by being in the home of a married couple or a single individual,” he explained. “That's not a radical notion.”
“We fully intend to pursue this legislation – it's not over yet,” Gilligan added, “and if we're not successful we're going to weigh other options.”
The threat of a Catholic adoption program shutdown in Illinois is being taken seriously by the local faith community, given recent forced closures in Washington, D.C. and in England and Wales.
Last February, Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C. was forced to stop its foster care and adoption services after it was deemed ineligible for public funding over its stance against the district's same-sex “marriage” law.
Every Catholic adoption program in England and Wales faced a similar fate. Last August, a local commission ruled that the last remaining agency, Catholic Care, was not justified in its refusal to place children with same-sex couples because of its religious beliefs.
“They're really hurting the children – at the end of the day, that's who is really getting hurt,” Gilligan said.
“If we have layoffs, that will be painful, but the real losers – if we can't continue providing this care – are the children.”
Gilligan explained that the state of Illinois has a history of dependence on faith-based organizations.
“It's a shame that the state of Illinois can't recognize that valuable contribution that we have been providing to the citizens of Illinois even before the Department of Children and Family services was established,” he said.
Gilligan recalled that in the 1990s “the department was in disarray, so the state turned to Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish and many good private agencies to help them.”
The state went from having 46,000 children in the foster care system in 1997 to 16,000 today.
“The reason that is, is because the private agencies stepped up to the plate and they cooperated with the state to provide adoptive homes for children that were lingering in foster care far too long,” Gilligan said.
The conference director called it a “tragedy” that the same religious principles held by faith-based agencies that were so helpful to the state in the past could now be rejected under the new civil unions law.
Catholic Charities in Illinois provides direct care for 2,500 of those children in foster care today, with an additional 500 being looked out for by local evangelical agencies.
Foster children in particular, Gilligan added, “come from destructive homes, abusive situations – the one thing they need is permanency and stability.”
He added that homes provided by married couples or single, committed individuals “is in the best interest of the child and quite frankly, I think society should recognize that that's in the best interest of the child.”
“We intend to try to fight to retain our right to contract to provide adoption and foster care services,” Gilligan said, adding that “we will continue to fight until they force us out – at some point in time that could happen, but we don't intend to just walk away at this point in time.”