Illinois civil unions spark battle over adoption


SPRINGFIELD -- Catholic Charities officials warned again Wednesday they might stop providing foster care and adoption services unless a bill is passed specifically saying that faith-based organizations do not have to place children in the homes of same-sex couples.

But the sponsor of that proposal said Wednesday he doesn’t see any way the legislation will be approved this spring.

“It’s not going anywhere at this point,” said Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, said of Senate Bill 1123.  “I don’t think it’s going to move.”

The bill was heard in the Senate Executive Committee earlier this spring, but did not have enough votes to pass.

“There was a tremendous amount of kickback on it,” Koehler said.  “I heard from a lot of folks on that one.”

Gay rights activists have portrayed the bill as an attempt to undermine civil unions in the state.

“It is completely unthinkable that the Catholic Charities would deny a home to a child simply because the couple is same-sex,” said Anthony Martinez, executive director of the Civil Rights Agenda.  “If an organization receives state funding, they must serve all residents of that state equally.”

Catholic Charities officials said their faith does not allow them to place foster or adoptive children in the homes of gay couples.  If they refuse, however, they said they fear lawsuits under the state's new civil unions law.

The law, which extends spousal rights to same-sex couples who enter into domestic partnerships or civil unions, was enacted in January. It takes effect June 1.

"If the law is not changed, we'll be faced with the very real possibility of being forced out of providing (adoption and foster) services," said Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

"We simply cannot be the agency that processes an application for someone to be a foster parent if they are co-habitating in a civil union," said Tricia Fox, director of Catholic Charities of Peoria.

Catholic Charities held a news conference Wednesday asking lawmakers to approve the bill, which would specifically exempt faith-based organizations from placing adoptive and foster-care children in the homes of gay couples.  Instead, those couples would be referred to an agency willing to make that placement or to the Department of Children and Family Services.

Gilligan said the bill will not prevent gay couples from adopting children or becoming foster parents.  He also warned that the lives of thousands of foster children will be disrupted if Catholic Charities stops offering foster care and adoption services.

Koehler said he thinks it would be “unfortunate” if Catholic Charities drops the services, because the organization has an extensive network.

“But that’s their decision,” he said.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.