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Milwaukee Pastors Respond To Supreme Court Ruling In Favor Of Catholic Agency That Doesn't Screen LGBTQ Foster Parents

Zach Gibson
Getty Images
The United States Supreme Court building on March 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruledin favor of Catholic Social Services in their case against the city of Philadelphia. The city had ended their contract with the adoption agency, when they found out the organization would not screen same-sex couples to be foster parents. Catholic Social Services claimed the city violated the free exercise clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Fulton v. Philadelphia is raising conversations around the country on religious freedoms, LGBTQ rights and what reforms within religious institutions are needed to be inclusive of all identities.

Larry Dupuis is the legal director at the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. He says, generally, this decision alone doesn’t mean that religious organizations have the right to discriminate when working with a public service. Local governments can still enforce non-discrimination provisions as long as it is done neutrally.

However, Dupuis is concerned about future cases that may arise. The question is will this embolden some religious-based organizations that want to discriminate ... to see if they can be the one to push it to see if they can get a majority, to say just generally the Free Exercise Clause grants religious organizations the right to discriminate even when they're providing a public service," he wonders.

Zao MKE is a Christian founded, radically-inclusive church led by queer and transgender people. Reverend Jonah Overton and Cameron Overton, pastors from Zao MKE, both exist within the realms of religion and the LGBTQ community.

It’s critical in these conversations to understand that no one is forcing any religious institution to work with LGBTQ families,” Jonah Overton says, “but to say if you want to work in public service provision that you have to do that in a way that’s not discriminatory.”

Cameron Overton emphasizes that from this case, there is a continued message from religious organizations that LGBTQ people do not belong. “We are actually harming more people, specifically LGBTQ folk and children, who end up wanting to harm themselves often because of the messages of religion,” he says.

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system. Many leave unsafe home environments, but may end up getting placed into foster homes where they continue to face bias or discrimination.

Jonah Overton emphasizes, “As long as LGBTQ adults are systematically held out of the foster care system that's going to be harder for youth to find that nourishment ... that support spiritually and in their own identity that they so desperately need.”

The Overtons want to continue fighting for change. “For every religious community that is denying access to queer foster families, we need an even louder presence,” Jonah Overton says.

“We need an even louder affirmation of the belovedness of queer identity," they say. "Because kids do need to hear you are loved by God exactly as you are as a queer or trans or nonbinary kid.”

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
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