Lawmaker says Catholic Charities should be exempt from civil unions law

2011-10-22T19:45:00Z 2011-10-22T19:55:04Z Lawmaker says Catholic Charities should be exempt from civil unions lawBy Meghann Myers Medill News Service nwitimes.com
October 22, 2011 7:45 pm  • 

In an unexpected twist in Illinois' very own church and state struggle, an Illinois state senator has decided to intervene on behalf of the Catholic Church by proposing a bill to amend the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Rights Act.

On Oct. 12, state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Decatur, filed a bill to amend the civil unions law to protect religious organizations that provide foster care and adoption services within the state. The original law included provisions to protect same sex couples from discrimination as well as exempt religious institutions from officiating civil union ceremonies against their conscience.

"Honestly, I'm not even Catholic," McCarter said last week. "I feel like I'm trying to get us just to follow the intention of the law that we passed. And that applies not just to Catholics but any institution of faith."

He argues that the recordings of the discussion on the Senate floor support the claim that legislators intended to extend protection to religiously affiliated institutions such as welfare agencies and hospitals.

In July, the Department of Children and Family Services informed Catholic Charities of the Dioceses of Joliet, Peoria, Belleville and Springfield their contracts for foster care and adoption services with the state would not be renewed on the basis that Catholic Charities' refusal to work with same sex couples violated Illinois law.

While lawyers worked in recent months to battle the issue in the state courts, McCarter decided to ask that religiously affiliated child welfare agencies be exempt from the anti-discrimination law.

A lawyer for Catholic Charities applauds McCarter's effort.

"Sen. McCarter is someone who is seeing this issue as an issue of religious liberty," said Peter C. Breen, a Chicago attorney for Catholic Charities. "I think it means something as someone who is not of the Catholic faith that he would defend Catholic liberties."

In the meantime, the Diocese of Peoria has dropped out of the lawsuit and come to an agreement with the Department of Children and Family Services to transfer all of its foster and adoption cases to the nonprofit Center for Youth and Family Services beginning Jan. 31.

The remaining three dioceses have a mandate to finish transferring their cases by Nov. 30. In a motion filed by Catholic Charities on Tuesday, attorneys asked that their deadline be pushed back to Jan. 31 as well, to more smoothly transition the children in their care.

"The Department of Children and Family Services has successfully transitioned cases from one agency to another multiple times in the past," department spokesman Kendall Marlowe said, "including Catholic Charities of the Archdioceses of Chicago in 2007 and Rockford in June of this year."

McCarter said he expects the bill to go to a vote in the state Senate as early as the upcoming November session.

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