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In objection to gay rights law, diocese ends adoptions work

Updated: October 11, 2011 12:24AM

The Rockford Diocese is ending its state-funded adoption and foster-care program rather than comply with a new law that would require it to place children with gay or unmarried couples.

Officials from the Rockford Diocese, which includes Aurora, Kane County and much of Kendall County, said they were forced to terminate state contracts worth $7.5 million after lawmakers failed to pass an amendment exempting religious groups from provisions of the state’s new civil unions law. The law, which will let gay and lesbian couples form civil unions, a rough equivalent to marriage, takes effect on Wednesday.

Catholic Charities wanted to be allowed to refer unmarried or gay couples to other agencies, as it has for years.

Diocese officials said that allowing such adoptions or foster placements would violate teachings of the Catholic faith.

“The law of our land has always guaranteed its people freedom of religion,” diocese spokeswoman Penny Wiegert said. “Denying this exemption to faith-based agencies leads one to believe that our lawmakers prefer laws that guarantee freedom from religion.”

The Civil Rights Agenda, a gay rights advocacy group, issued a statement calling the diocese’s decision “a sad display of bigotry” and said religious freedom “is granted only when the religious agency is not funded by taxpayer dollars.”

“I am mindful that this is a sad day for the many foster families and parents involved and the children who are in the care of Catholic Charities,” TCRA Executive Director Anthony Martinez said.

Illinois Department of Children and Family Services officials said there are enough private child welfare agencies to take over foster placement and adoptions for the roughly 300 children in the Rockford Diocese’s foster-care program when it ends Wednesday.

“Catholic Charities in Rockford has served children and families with compassion for many years, and we thank them for their service,” DCFS Director Erwin McEwen said. “We will take every step necessary to ensure that the children are well cared for and the foster families are well supported during this transition.”

Rockford and four other Catholic dioceses in Illinois are among 45 private agencies that provide state-funded adoption and foster-care services, DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said. The dioceses provide services to about 2,300 of the 15,000 children in the foster-care system, while two other religious groups provide care to about 1,000 children, Marlowe said.

Catholic charity groups place children only with married couples or single people — not with couples living together. They consider couples in civil unions to be unmarried and therefore not eligible to adopt or provide foster care through their programs.

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