PHILADELPHIA - The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion in federal court today to intervene in a pending lawsuit brought by Catholic Social Services (CSS) against the city of Philadelphia over its policy barring agencies from discriminating against same-sex couples. The ACLU represents the Support Center for Child Advocates, a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation and services to children in the foster care system, and Philadelphia Family Pride (PFP), a membership organization of LGBTQ parents and prospective parents.
Earlier this year, the city ended its practice of referring foster children to CSS because the agency refuses to license qualified same-sex couples to be foster parents or to place children with same-sex couples, which prompted CSS to respond with its lawsuit in the federal district court. The ACLU’s motion to intervene argues that the children and families served by Child Advocates and PFP would be harmed if CSS is successful in its lawsuit and asks the court for permission to participate in the lawsuit.
“The heart of this case is what is in the best interests of children,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Loving, supportive same-sex couples are willing to open their homes to kids in need, but CSS’s policy gives them one less avenue to make that happen. It would be a tremendous loss for our children if agencies were permitted to turn away good families based on failure to meet religious criteria.”
A motion to intervene allows someone who could be directly impacted by its outcome to join the lawsuit as a party. If the court grants the motion, the ACLU will be able to argue in court on behalf of Child Advocates and PFP to explain why a ruling in favor of CSS would harm children in the foster care system and prospective families who seek to care for them.
“Children in foster care in Philadelphia need every possible family that is ready, willing, and able to care for them,” said Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates. “The Support Center for Child Advocates is entering the case to advocate for the best interests of all of Philadelphia’s children. We are in this for the kids. They need a voice in this dispute.”
CSS has asked the court for a preliminary injunction directing the city to continue to refer kids to CSS while the litigation proceeds. A hearing on CSS’s request for a preliminary injunction is currently scheduled for June 18.
“When families make the decision to open their hearts and homes to a child in need, they should not have to face discrimination by the child placing agencies,” said Stephanie Haynes, executive director of Philadelphia Family Pride. “Families that are prepared to help a child should be welcomed and supported, not turned away based on an agency’s religious disapproval.”
“When governments contract with private agencies to provide public child welfare services and pay them taxpayer dollars to do it, they may not permit them to turn away qualified families based on religious objections to those families,” said Leslie Cooper of the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project. “That would violate the constitution.”
The Support Center for Child Advocates and Philadelphia Family Pride are represented by Leslie Cooper of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, Mary Catherine Roper and Molly Tack-Hooper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Fred T. Magaziner and Catherine V. Wigglesworth of Dechert LLP, and Frank P. Cervone of the Support Center for Child Advocates.
A copy of the motion filed today by the ACLU is available at this link.