A federal judge in New York granted temporary reprieve last week to a Christian adoption agency, ruling that the organization could continue arranging adoptions while litigation proceeds over its faith-based refusal to place children with same-sex adoptive parents.
New Hope Family Services of Syracuse filed suit in late 2018, challenging the state Office of Children and Family Services’ interpretation of a state law that ensures
The state agency had given New Hope an ultimatum weeks earlier that year: Change its policy of referring same-sex couples to other providers, or close its adoption program. New Hope has argued the state was violating its religious and free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution’s First and 14th Amendments.
A landmark Supreme Court decision in 2015 requiring that states recognize same-sex marriages has spawned similar legal battles across the country, including a case involving a Catholic social services agency in Philaldephia, which the court will hear next month. While most faith-based child welfare providers will serve anyone, some have sought the right to train and license only male-female foster or adoptive candidates, in accordance with the religious ideology of the organization.
But state and local governments like New York’s have passed nondiscrimination laws in conflict with those practices, and LGBTQ rights and civil liberties advocates fear religious groups are seeking “a far-reaching constitutional license to discriminate in the name of religion,” as the American Civil Liberties’ website puts it.
Last Monday, the U.S. District Court judge reviewing New Hope’s case in Albany, Mae D’Agostino, ruled that the agency had “demonstrated likelihood of success on the merits of its Free Speech claim,” and that its current policy of “recusal-and-referral” was “narrowly tailored to the state’s interests while protecting New Hope’s Free Speech rights.”
In a statement posted online, the senior counsel for an Arizona-based legal advocacy defender group for Christian interests, which is representing New Hope, called the interim ruling “great news” for adoptive children and parents.
“Government officials have no business forcing faith-based providers to choose between speaking messages about marriage that contradict their religious convictions and closing their doors,” said Roger Brooks of the Alliance Defending Freedom. “The need for adoption services in New York, whether public or private, is huge, and New Hope’s faith-guided services do not coerce anyone and do nothing to interfere with other adoption providers who have different beliefs about family and the best interests of children.”
A Children and Family Services spokesperson said via email the agency cannot comment on pending legislation. According to court documents, the state’s attorneys have argued that the child welfare agency rules serve “the state’s interest in providing homes to children by increasing the number of prospective adoptive parents” and that the state has a “compelling interest” in avoiding discrimination on the basis of marital status or sexual orientation.
D’Agostino had initially rejected the case last year, before the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals instructed the lower court to reconsider.
Advocates for both children and LGBTQ rights have sought to expand the number of same-sex couples fostering children to help address a nationwide shortage exacerbated by the opioid epidemic over the last decade.
Since the mid-2000s, a growing body of research has concluded that same-sex couples produce outcomes for children as positive as traditional male-female marriages. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement in 2013 stating, “scientific evidence affirms that children have similar developmental and emotional needs and receive similar parenting whether they are raised by parents of the same or different genders.”
A 2012 study by the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute estimated that 2 million LGBTQ parents were ready to foster or adopt a child. But as of 2018, same-sex couples were raising only 3% of foster children and 4% of adopted children, according to the Family Equality Council, an advocacy group that has worked to pass laws that would help those families foster more children. The Christian Alliance for Orphans’ More Than Enough campaign, meanwhile, has sought to rally church members nationwide to “ensure that more than 10% of churches in my county are actively engaged in foster care,” by 2025.