Christian-backed foster agency can legally discriminate against LGBT+ couples after state U-turn


Kentucky has signed a contract with a Baptist-affiliated foster agency that steadfastly refused to stop discriminating against same-sex couples.

The state reached a deal with Sunrise Children’s Services on Thursday (15 July) after the Democratic governor’s administration agreed to remove all LGBT+ anti-discrimination language from the contract, which the agency had previously refused to sign.

Sunrise officials complained the non-discrimination language would have compelled them to violate deeply-held religious principles by placing children with same-sex foster parents.

As one of Kentucky’s largest service providers, Sunrise Children’s Services cares for over 1,000 abused and neglected vulnerable children in a state that consistently bears some of the nation’s worst child abuse rates.

The long-running feud threatened to place an already strained child welfare system into further jeopardy, effectively forcing the governor’s hand.

His options were also limited by a recent Supreme Court ruling in favour of a Pennsylvania Catholic foster agency which similarly refused to work with same-sex couples as foster parents.

Sunrise’s attorney John Sheller argued that the high court ruling applied fully to the Sunrise dispute, and warned if Kentucky failed to follow it, the state would “invite litigation which the governor is sure to lose.”

The new contract includes specific language protecting Sunrise’s “sincerely held religious beliefs,” explicitly allowing them to refuse queer people as potential parents. Sheller said the agency “is grateful that the commonwealth has decided to follow the law” after prolonged uncertainty.

But the removal of the LGBT-inclusive clauses has made advocates uneasy, fearing it will sanction discrimination in the state.

“It’s disappointing and disheartening that they would allow this discrimination to continue,” said Chris Hartman, executive director of the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign, speaking to AP.

He disputed that the Supreme Court ruling had a direction application, and said LGBT+ rights advocates will keep pushing for the non-discrimination language in state contracts.

“We’re going to continue conversations and continue advocating for no discrimination in any state-contracted services with anyone for any reason,” he said on Thursday. “We don’t believe that state dollars should be utilised in the efforts of discrimination.”