Supreme Court siding with anti-LGBT+ foster agency is actually ‘good news’, experts say

Demonstrators wave LGBT+ Pride flags outside the US Supreme Court

The Supreme Court Fulton v Philadelphia ruling, which found that a Catholic foster agency can legally turn away same-sex couples, “does not create a license to discriminate”, according to rights organisations.

On Thursday (17 June), the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favour of the Catholic fostering and adoption agency Catholic Social Services (CSS), which argued that it should still receive taxpayer funding even though it refuses to place children with same-sex couples.

Although the ruling was a blow to families in Philadelphia that may have wanted to adopt or foster through the agency, it was “fact-specific” and does not “establish a general right for religious organisations to violate non-discrimination laws”, according to the ACLU.

The ruling looked specifically at the mechanism for allowing exemptions to laws protecting against discrimination in the contract between the city and CSS.

In fact, the Supreme Court acknowledged in its decision on Fulton v Philadelphia that the argument for “the equal treatment of prospective foster parents and foster children” was “weighty”.

Citing the notorious Masterpiece Cakeshop case, it wrote: “Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth.”

Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) LGBTQ & HIV Project, explained in a statement: “The decision will not affect any foster care programs that do not have the same system for individualised exemptions that were at issue here…

“And this decision does not allow discrimination in other taxpayer-funded government programs such as homeless shelters, disaster relief programs and health care.

“Federal, state, and local governments can and should continue to pass and enforce comprehensive non-discrimination laws. This is critical given the high rates of discrimination experienced by the LGBTQ community, particularly Black and Brown trans women.”

She continued: “We are relieved that the court did not recognise a license to discriminate based on religious beliefs.

“Opponents of LGBTQ equality have been seeking to undo hard-won non-discrimination protections by asking the court to establish a constitutional right to opt out of such laws when discrimination is motivated by religious beliefs.

“This is the second time in four years that the court has declined to do so. This is good news for LGBTQ people and for everyone who depends on the protections of non-discrimination laws.”

Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of LGBT+ suicide prevention charity The Trevor Project, added: “LGBT+ young people may be hearing conflicting messages about what happened at the Supreme Court today and internalising that news.

“This decision is disappointing in some ways, but LGBT+ youth should know it is also incredibly narrow and depends on unique circumstances in Philadelphia.

“Guidance from the Biden Administration has made clear that LGBT+ youth are protected from discrimination in schools, housing, employment, and everyday life.

“No matter the news and politics of the day, we want to remind LGBT+ young people that they are beautiful the way that they are and deserve to be loved and supported.”