Bethany Christian Services, the largest Protestant adoption and foster care agency in the U.S., announced yesterday that it will begin placing children with LGBTQ parents nationwide, reports the New York Times.
Correspondent Ruth Graham writes that Bethany had an informal policy of referring LGBTQ people to other agencies, but individual branches of the agency, which has offices in 32 states, sometimes chose to serve them. In Philadelphia, where a different Christian agency’s refusal to work with LGBTQ people has taken them to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case (Fulton v. City of Philadelphia) whose outcome is pending, the local Bethany branch changed its policy to comply with city nondiscrimination statutes. Because the agency took taxpayer money for its services, it was bound by the city’s statutes. Now, Bethany’s national board has unanimously enacted a policy of inclusion for all of its branches.
Graham reports that President and CEO Chris Palusky said in an e-mail to the organization’s 1500 staff members, “We will now offer services with the love and compassion of Jesus to the many types of families who exist in our world today. We’re taking an ‘all hands on deck’ approach where all are welcome.”
And board member Susanne Jordan told Graham that while she recognizes they may lose some donors because of the new policy, “Serving children should not be controversial.”
This is terrific news that will make more homes and parents available to children in care. And as the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) showed in a report released last December, more than 1,200 child placement agencies contract with city, county, and/or state governments to care for children. Of those, 39.8 percent agencies are religiously affiliated, mostly (88 percent) with mainstream Christian denominations. MAP noted that even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of discrimination, not all religiously affiliated agencies would choose to do so—and Bethany’s move reinforces that claim.
At the same time, MAP warned, “The risk is not merely hypothetical. There are already clear examples of agencies seeking the ability to discriminate. And a June 2020 survey by the Center for American Progress and NORC at the University of Chicago found that two in five LGBTQ people said it would be “very difficult” or “not possible” to find another child placement agency if they were turned away by one.
So: Good news, but not a reason to take our eyes off the ball. Want to know how you can help fight religiously based discrimination against LGBTQ parents and ensure that all children, including LGBTQ youth and youth of color, get culturally competent, safe, and supportive care? Visit the Every Child Deserves a Family campaign to learn more.