No state subsidies for discrimination
When we wrote in this space that it was time for Illinois to have civil unions, we quoted Gov. Pat Quinn, who said we "need to encourage tolerance in this state." And that's just what the legislature did when it passed the law allowing for civil unions and what Quinn did when he signed it. However, with that law (effective on June 1) came another issue. Again, we side with Quinn.
Catholic Charities in five Illinois dioceses, including those covering DuPage, Kane and McHenry counties in the Daily Herald circulation area, are suing the state so the agencies would not have to accept civil union and unmarried couples as foster parents. At issue is the state money used by Catholic Charities to run their programs for about 2,000 children. Illinois now requires that foster and adoptive care agencies treat same-sex couples in civil unions the same as married couples if they want to use state dollars.
"If an organization ... decides they don't want to voluntarily participate with the state, they have that choice and we honor that choice," Quinn said last month, as quoted by the Capitol Fax Blog. "We have other entities that are involved in foster care that are willing to assume that duty."
And therein lies the crux of the debate: Faith-based agencies like Catholic Charities are not forced to accept state money and therefore are not forced to change long-held beliefs. This is not a freedom of religion issue.
We believe, however, that there are many same-sex couples who would make excellent foster or adoptive parents if given the chance. Loving families and good parenting skills are not limited to straight couples or single people.
And yet that is exactly what opponents of the civil union law believe and espouse. David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute in Carol Stream, said as much in a letter to the editor on this page on Monday.
" ... In upholding traditional religious teachings, and in the best interests of children, (Catholic Charities) will not place foster children in nonmarried or homosexual homes," Smith wrote. A person's sexual orientation on its own should not be a disqualifier. That's a form of discrimination the state won't and shouldn't accept.
We hope the Illinois judicial system affirms the state's point in this matter. All they need to do is look to Rockford to see that there are alternatives. About 300 foster-care cases once handled by the Rockford Diocese were transferred to the Youth Services Bureau of Illinois Valley when the diocese shut its program down. In 2007, when the Chicago Archdiocese halted its foster-care services because of insurance issues, the state also was able to transfer cases to other agencies.
"We will explore every option to prevent disruption to these children," said Ken Marlowe, spokesman for the Department of Children and Family Services. "Discrimination has no place in child welfare."