MASSACHUSETTS — 6 November 2020 — MassEquality stands strongly against the efforts to enshrine anti-LGBTQ discrimination in law in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. We condemn Catholic Social Services’s attempt to justify what is tantamount to taxpayer-funded discrimination. CSS has claimed that they should receive a religious exemption from obeying Philadelphia’s requirement that agencies contracting with the city to screen potential foster parents may not exclude LGBTQ families. Trying to hide this blatantly homophobic and transphobic policy as merely a religious preference is outrageous – but going further and arguing that this discriminatory policy should be protected by law and not prevent them from receiving government contracts is reprehensible.
This case could set a dangerous precedent that would permit private agencies that accept public contracts and receive taxpayer funding to provide government services – including foster care, adoption, food banks, homeless shelters, and more – to deny services to any group they are prejudiced against, such as people who are LGBTQ+, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, divorced, or single. When a government sets nondiscrimination rules for contractors receiving taxpayer funds to carry out public services, agencies should not be free to step beyond the bounds of the law and discriminate at will.
As an LGBTQ organization in a state where the people have enacted robust anti-discrimination protections to accord with our deeply-held values of fairness and equality, MassEquality stands firmly against the anti-democratic, desperate efforts to overturn the will of the people expressed in hard-won protections for LGBTQ families. We share the concerns of Neal Kaytal, the attorney for Philadelphia, who argued that the implications of this case “radiate far beyond foster care.” Bay Staters have spoken: we believe that LGBTQ people deserve the exact same treatment as their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. As a state, we joined together to enact that principle into law, as represented in our many nondiscrimination laws. Now, private agencies, led by CSS, want to opt out of obeying the will of the people and freely impose their prejudices, against MA’s true values. And they want to use our money – taxpayer funds – to pay for their discrimination.
More immediately, we fear the damage an anti-LGBTQ ruling in Fulton could do both to LGBTQ families and to youth – especially LGBTQ youth – who interact with the foster system. Research indicates that LGBTQ parents are seven times more likely to be raising a foster child than their heterosexual counterparts. When these families are rejected simply for being LGBTQ by a foster agency contracted by their government, they are being told that their own government does not consider their relationships valid or healthy for children. CSS may argue that these families can go to another agency, but as a country, we have long recognized that “separate but equal” is merely a fiction to disguise inequality and discrimination. As the amicus brief in Fulton by the Williams Institute pointed out, “The existence of other service providers does not cure the ‘the deprivation of personal dignity’ caused when an LGBTQ person is turned away—or knows that she would be turned away—by a government-sanctioned agency solely on the basis of sexual orientation.”
In addition to subjecting our community to painful experiences of prejudice, rejecting loving, healthy families for reasons of hate and fear does untold harm to the foster care system itself. MA is in the middle of a foster housing crisis: the number of children in foster care has spiked by almost 20% in the last five years, and the number of foster homes hasn’t kept up. Regulators have had to grant unprecedented numbers of waivers allowing homes to exceed their legal capacity; the number of overcapacity waivers more than doubled between 2014 and 2016 alone. Further, once in the system, children struggle to find long-term placements: roughly a third are moved at least three times in their first year in the system. LGBTQ foster parents are a critical resource for our state’s Department of Children and Families. Not only do they foster children at a far higher rate than their straight, cis peers, they are especially likely to provide children with a loving, long-term home. In MA, over the last decade, between 15% and 28% of adoptions of foster children each year involved same-sex parents. If we allow contracting foster agencies to discriminate at will against same-sex parents, we at best impede the speed with which DCF can find foster families (as LGBTQ parents may be turned away and have to search carefully for non-discriminatory foster agencies) and at worst substantially reduce the number of foster households. With the health and wellbeing of our state’s foster youth at risk, neither of these outcomes are acceptable. Further, the wellbeing of LGBTQ youth – who are disproportionately likely to end up in foster care – is particularly at risk. If foster care agencies are free to discriminate against prospective supportive LGBTQ foster parents, we worry for the impact on LGBTQ children. Considering all the harms that the Fulton threatens to bring upon our community, we stand in solidarity with LGBTQ organizations across the nation against the homophobic, transphobic arguments in this case.
MassEquality is the leading statewide grassroots advocacy organization working to ensure that everyone across Massachusetts can thrive at all stages of life without discrimination and oppression based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Since transitioning from a single-issue coalition focused on marriage equality to a multi-issue advocacy organization working to ensure that LGBTQ people are safe and free to live open and authentic lives, MassEquality has achieved numerous victories, including advocating for trans civil rights protections and banning conversion therapy for minors. These victories were accomplished by partnering across issues, identities, and communities to build a broad, inclusive, and politically powerful movement that changes hearts and minds and achieves policy and electoral victories. As the only LGBTQ-focused political organization in the Commonwealth that combines legislative lobbying with highly effective support for electoral candidates, the MassEquality PAC stands with, develops, and elects candidates who are outspoken champions for justice and equality for all LGBTQ people across Massachusetts.