Americans are all about our rights: the right to own a gun, the right to have an abortion, the right to be called by whatever pronoun we want. We are a righteous crew.
Knowing that, I wasn’t surprised to learn that a same-sex couple was angry when a faith-based organization called Bethany Christian Services refused to consider them as foster parents. Until a few days ago, Bethany worked with the Philadelphia Department of Human Services to locate foster homes for needy children, and also received monetary reimbursement under a contractual agreement with the city. Catholic Social Services, run by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, operates under the same conditions and has the same restriction on same-sex placement.
When the news broke, the city terminated its relationship with Bethany and the archdiocese, citing a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Victory for people and their rights!
Except we often forget that rights do not exist in a vacuum, and that protecting one group’s rights can end up harming another.
Take, for example, the Boy Scouts. About a decade ago, the local Cradle of Liberty Chapter was threatened with eviction by the city because, at that time, it did not accept openly gay scouts or scout leaders, and was occupying municipal property. The case wended its way through the court system until the national leadership of the Boy Scouts finally moved to lift the ban on openly gay members.
I was a vocal critic of the strong-arm tactics of then-Mayor Michael Nutter and the City Solicitor’s Office. It wasn’t because I am a homophobe, as many people still believe. It was because I was angry that the preferences and demands of adults were being prioritized over the needs of children.
Here is what I wrote in 2010: “The city has decided to be an advocate for the most radical element of the gay community, which feels it’s better to eliminate a benefit for the majority of kids (even those who might be gay but don’t need to wear the rainbow on their sleeves) so that a vocal and shortsighted minority can be placated.”
I got a lot of blowback about the dignity of LGBT people, but I stuck to my guns in 2015: “This is indeed all about dignity, but only the dignity of grown-ups. Kids don’t give a damn who their Scout leaders go home to, they only want people who will guide them along the straight (sorry, can’t use another word here) and narrow.”
And now it’s déjà vu all over again. I am sure that by standing up for the rights of Bethany and Catholic Social Services, people will again say that I am homophobic. That’s not true — but once again, the city wants to placate adults at the expense of children.
Foster care isn’t a “right” for adults — regardless of their sexual orientation. This couple are not being denied access to voting or employment opportunities. There are other organizations that allow foster kids to be placed with gay couples, so the adults here are not being harmed. They could go elsewhere. But kids do have the fundamental right to loving parents and a safe home.
Because their relationship with the city has been severed, Bethany and CSS will no longer be able to place children referred to them by DHS, so those kids who would otherwise have had the support of Bethany and CSS will not have access to those resources. That hurts those kids.
There are real, legal issues at play in this case. First, Philadelphia has a prohibition on discrimination based on sexual orientation. And second, there could be a First Amendment issue and that’s one that Bethany and CSS would probably lose if the court finds it illegal for the city to finance organizations that make decisions that clash with its own laws, based on religious choices.
But at its heart, this issue is about the children. The city has essentially jettisoned two agencies that have been doing important work for decades, simply because the rights of same sex couples to foster parent are considered more important than the rights of children to be safe and loved.
I’m not saying that same sex couples can’t be good foster parents. That’s not the point. But I am saying that when the city severed its relationship with two organizations that helped children find homes, it is not the adults who are suffering. It is, as usual, the kids who bear the brunt of the pain.