On Thursday, June 17 the United States Supreme Court ruled that governments can continue to enforce nondiscrimination laws – including nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ persons – so long as they do so consistently and fairly.
The Court’s highly anticipated decision resolves a dispute brought by a Catholic foster care services provider (Catholic Social Services) against the City of Philadelphia which terminated its contract with the provider after refusing to exempt the provider from the City’s nondiscrimination policy which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression (Fulton v City of Philadelphia). The Catholic agency is a religious non-profit funded by taxpayers and it sought to be exempted from serving same-sex couples on the basis of its religious views that marriage should be between a man and a woman. The City’s nondiscrimination policy allows a Commissioner or other city designee to issue provider exemptions to the policy as appropriate or necessary. The City which contracts with 30 foster agencies (religious & private) has exercised its right to exempt other providers from its policy, but refused Catholic Social Services to be exempted. The Court ruled that the City of Philadelphia violated the First Amendment and the Free Exercise of Religion when it refused to exempt Catholic Social Services and then terminated its contract with them canceling existing certified foster care parents. No same-sex couples sought to be served by the Catholic provider and none were therefore denied. Same-sex couples have been certified as foster care parents in Philadelphia through the City’s other providers.
While the Court sided with the religious provider in a decision narrowly tailored to the specific facts of the case – namely, how the City of Philadelphia targeted the religious provider – it upheld government’s right to enforce nondiscrimination laws neutrally which is a small a victory for same-sex families & LGBTQ+ households who provide thousands of children in the child welfare system a loving home.
Maplewood’s Deputy Mayor (its first LGBTQ elected representative) and longtime advocate Dean Dafis, said, “I’m glad the Court validated nondiscrimination laws in government services and other public accommodations including to protect LGBTQ persons and same-sex families, and that the Court did not create a blanket or broad new excuse to discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs, but I’m very concerned that this decision will bolster ongoing efforts to pin religion against LGBTQ equality and misused for this exact purpose by providers in public accommodations or other services. We will continue fighting hate disguised as religion, protecting our families, pursuing our civil rights, and organizing for the passage of the Equality Act which will end this struggle once and for all.”
NJ’s first transgender and non-binary elected representative, and longtime advocate, Shannon Cuttle remarked, “Today’s decision is disappointing, but does not give license to discriminate and upholds the importance of local non-discrimination protections. This narrow ruling is a reminder that we need to pass the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ+ persons from discrimination.”