The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in Texas wants to become a foster care provider, but only if it is exempt from a federal rule preventing LGBTQ discrimination in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grants. It filed a lawsuit alongside the Texas Attorney General challenging the law on the basis of religious liberties.
The lawsuit says the Catholic institution wants to work with only those who live in accordance with Catholic doctrine, meaning same-sex and unmarried cohabiting couples are out.
But many are drawing attention to Texas’ already-precarious foster care system, saying organizations should not be choosy over the sexual orientation of otherwise-eligible foster parents. In January, there were 29,927 children in foster care in Texas and 3,378 awaiting adoption, according to AdoptUSKids.org. Texas has a shortage of foster home placements, which has led to children spending some nights in state offices.
“When you completely shut the door to many good people because they are same-sex or single parents, it isn’t about fixing capacity, it’s about restricting capacity to certain groups,” Will Francis, executive director for the National Association of Social Workers Texas Chapter, told the Houston Chronicle.
However, the lawsuit claims it is trying to expand foster care providers in the state by involving religious institutions and allowing them to keep their beliefs.
“Some of these providers require potential foster care or adoptive parents to share a religious faith or agree to the provider’s statement of faith,” the lawsuit says. “Some have particular religious views on marriage, gender identity, and sexual orientation. But none of them should be required to forfeit their beliefs as a condition of helping Texas’s most vulnerable children.”
The Obama-era anti-discrimination policy added sexual orientation and gender identity to protected classes under HHS grants. HHS Secretary Alex Azar announced a proposal to roll back the rule for the sake of “ensuring the protection of religious liberty, and to provide that HHS complies with all applicable Supreme Court decisions in administering its grant programs.”
In this latest battle between LGBTQ rights and religious freedom, the archdiocese, Department of Family and Protective Services and the Texas Attorney General’s office seek to clarify that the federal rule only applies to state institutions and not its contractors. The suit claims the rule violates the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and that it never gave HHS the power to enact the rule.
It is uncommon for a state to side with a religious agency in a lawsuit. Additionally, if the archdiocese wins, it could, like in many other religious liberty cases, raise questions about how far these limitations can go in other areas, like divorce status and affiliation with other religions.