Supreme Court Rules in Fulton v. City of PhiladelphiaJune 17, 2021 • 1:24 pm
Ruling affirms the value of nondiscrimination laws but narrowly grants case-specific exemption
WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Supreme Court today issued its ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case concerning whether a religious foster care agency can refuse to work with same-sex couples in violation of the nondiscrimination provisions of a contract into which it voluntarily entered and received taxpayer funds to carry out.
The ruling makes clear that governments can and should continue enforcing nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBTQ Americans and others so long as they do so uniformly. The Court recognized that the government has a “weighty interest” in equal treatment of people regardless of their sexual orientation, emphasizing that “[o]ur society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth.” Equally significantly, it had the opportunity but did not recognize a general constitutional right to discriminate based on religious beliefs. But, based on factors unique to this case, the Court determined that the City’s system of individualized exemptions for different agencies meant its policy was not being applied neutrally to foster care agencies, and therefore it must grant an exemption to the religious agency at the center of this case.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling offers good news to the supermajority of Americans who believe in treating LGBTQ people with dignity and respect. The Court affirmed the importance of ensuring that gay people aren’t treated as second class citizens, and that nondiscrimination laws are much-needed and valuable. Under the decision, cities, states, and federal agencies may continue enforcing the nondiscrimination laws that are so critical to protecting Americans from discrimination. At the same time, in facts unique to this case, the Court ruled that the City of Philadelphia’s contract with the religious foster care agency did not allow them to ensure that the agency serves same-sex couples. We hope the agency will join other religious child placement agencies in choosing to serve qualified and loving LGBTQ people. The Court was clear that LGBTQ people are deserving of equal dignity and respect, and Congress must echo that call by enacting a federal nondiscrimination law that ensures that all LGBTQ people, regardless of zip code, are treated with dignity and respect in every aspect of life.”
The ruling comes as more and more child welfare agencies are opening their doors to qualified prospective LGBTQ parents in order to ensure more children receive loving forever homes. Just this year, Bethany Christian Services, one of the largest religious-run adoption and foster care agencies in the nation announced it would work with parents who identify as LGBTQ.