Lesbian foster parent takes federal gov’t to court after rejection
A lesbian foster parent in Tennessee is suing the federal government after a child services agency with a government contract rejected her because of their policy against placing children with LGBTQ paraents.
Kelly Easter of Nashville is suing the US Department of Health and Human Services, as well as a number of HHS officials and their programs, for contracting the child services agency.
Lesbian foster parent rejected by adoption agency
Easter’s experience happened last year when she asked US Office of Refugee Resettlement if she could become a foster parent for a refugee child.
The agency sent her request to the Bethany Christian Services, which was the only agency in her area that was handling those requests.
When the said agency rejected because she was a lesbian, Easter complained about the discrimination and cited the fact that the adoption program was federally funded.
However, Bethany officials defended their decision, citing they were only following the policy of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as a subcontractor.
When Easter informed the Office of Refugee Resettlement, they said they would look into the matter.
Though the Bethany agency announced it would lift this policy, they still told Easter that the nearest office couldn’t allow her to foster a child because of the said contract with the bishops’ conference.
Lesbian foster parent takes on the federal government
This decision led to Easter to file a suit with the help of Lambda Legal. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the law firm Orrick, Herrington, and Sutcliffe.
A press release by Lambda Legal stated: “There are more unaccompanied refugee children in the federal government’s care than there are eligible foster homes available for these children.”
By allowing the USCCB to require its subgrantees to use religion to discriminate against LGBTQ people, the federal government is harming prospective parents and vulnerable children, the LGBTQ legal organization said.
Karen L. Loewy, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, said that this discrimination “hurts the children in these programs by reducing the number of available homes” and depriving them the opportunity to be considered for placement.
Meanwhile, Easter said: “I’ve been a Christian since I was a little girl and my personal relationship with God is the most important thing to me.”
“I also know that LGBTQ people can have thriving families and that they are as important and deserving as any other. How can the government tell me that my beliefs are wrong?” she added.
Religious agencies supported by government funds
The Health and Human Services’ Administration of Children and Families spokesperson told NBC News that they are preparing a response to the suit.
However, they also said: “HHS is committed to protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and ensuring access to our programs and services.”
The Biden administration has ordered all federal agencies to prevent anti-LGBTQ discrimination after contractors providing adoption and foster care services were allowed to discriminate during the Trump administration.
However, last June, the Supreme Court ruled that a Catholic agency could keep its contract to provide foster care services for the city of Philadelphia despite their discrimination against LGBTQ people.
This was also in violation of the city’s law. However, this ruling only applied to that case, wand was not establishing a general right to discriminate.
Currently around 27 states– including Tennessee– have stricter laws that protect LGBTQ people who want to foster or adopt children, according to the nonprofit think thank Movement Advancement Project.
However, Tennessee is also one of 11 states that allow state-licensed child welfare agencies to refuse to provide services– especially against LGBTQ people and same-sex couples– if this goes against their religious beliefs.