Wyden, Merkley Join Legal Brief to End Discrimination in Foster Care and Adoption

Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today they have joined a legal brief in an impending Supreme Court case focused on anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in the foster care and adoption system.

“Religion must not be misconstrued as a license to discriminate, plain and simple,” Wyden said. “To deny prospective and well-qualified foster and adoptive parents simply based on who they love or how they identify hurts our children in the foster care system by unjustly limiting their opportunities to find loving homes. And the fact that this discrimination comes at the expense of the American taxpayer compounds the stain on our nation’s character.” 

“Every child deserves a loving home and family,” said Merkley. “But discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community has denied too many children the opportunity to be placed in that loving environment. Regardless of who a person loves or their gender identity, any potential parent should be judged on how qualified they are to care for the child. Full stop. Using religion to deny LGBTQ+ individuals the right to adopt or foster is discrimination and it should have no place in America today.”

In March 2018, the City of Philadelphia learned that two of the agencies it partners with to provide foster care services to children in the public child welfare system would not allow same-sex couples to be foster parents, based on the agencies’ religious beliefs. The city subsequently stopped referring children to the agencies and informed them that city contracts prohibit such discrimination. One agency, Catholic Social Services, sued the city with claims that the right to free exercise of religion entitles it to a taxpayer-funded contract to perform a government service, even though it is unwilling to comply with the city’s requirement that contract agencies accept all qualified families. The resulting legal case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, will be heard in front of the Supreme Court in November 2020.

Wyden and Merkley were joined by U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Jeanne Shaheen. D-N.H., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Mark Warner, D-Va., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Chris Coons, D-Del., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii. The effort was led in the House by Representative Angie Craig, Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and the first lesbian mom to serve in Congress.

Wyden has been leading the charge against taxpayer-funded discrimination in foster care and beyond in his position of leadership on the Senate Finance Committee, repeatedly condemning a proposed rule by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to allow recipients of federal funding to practice prohibited discrimination in the name of religion. Wyden and Merkley also cosponsor the Every Child Deserves a Family (ECDF) Act to end discrimination against prospective adoptive and foster parents based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or religion. This legislation would also prohibit this kind of discrimination against children and youth in the child welfare system and would ensure that they are not subject to harmful practices, such as conversion therapy.

 A web version of this release is here.