US supreme court says foster agency can discriminate against LGBTQ people

Catholic foster agency in Philadelphia is free to turn away same-sex couples as foster parents on religious grounds

The US supreme court has ruled against the rights of LGBTQ people to foster children in Philadelphia, in a decision that has raised fears the court could next seek to take away same-sex marriage rights.

The court said a tax-payer funded Catholic foster agency in Philadelphia was free to turn away same-sex couples as foster parents on religious grounds. The foster agency had sued the city after Philadelphia ordered it not to exclude LGBTQ people.

Thursday’s announcement in the case of Fulton v City of Philadelphia, from the majority conservative supreme court, restricts the impact of the historic 2015 ruling which made sex-same marriage legal in the US in ensuring equality, and enshrines in law the right to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans.

The decision also raises the spectre of the court returning in a future session to that 2015 ruling. Pete Buttigieg, the US transport secretary, who became America’s first openly-gay cabinet member when he was confirmed to his post in the Biden administration in February, has warned against renewed threats to equality.

He was among those who said same-sex marriage could be at risk as Donald Trump pushed through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative and devout Catholic, to the supreme court in October last year.

Until 2018, Catholic Social Services (CSS) had a contract with the city of Philadelphia to provide various foster care services, including screening potential foster parents.

Philadelphia subsequently learned, after reporting by the local newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, that the agency was violating a non-discrimination requirement within that contract, by refusing to work with same-sex couples interested in fostering children.

Philadelphia told CSS it would not renew the contract unless the agency complied with nondiscrimination rules, but CSS refused, and sued the city. Another agency which had, until then, also been turning away same-sex foster parents changed its policies and said it would abide by city rules.

The supreme court verdict will likely embolden other foster care agencies to begin discriminating against same-sex couples, and could further have consequences for LGBTQ rights in areas such as housing and the workplace.

Trump nominated three supreme court justices, Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh, during his four-year term, all of whom are reliable conservatives.

That gave the supreme court a 6-3 conservative majority which could impact laws involving healthcare, voting, LGBTQ rights and abortion laws.


Adam Gabbatt in New York

The GuardianTramp

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