One of the country’s largest adoption and foster care agencies, Bethany Christian Services, announced on Monday that it would begin providing services to L.G.B.T.Q. parents nationwide effective immediately, a major inflection point in the fraught battle over many faith-based agencies’ longstanding opposition to working with same-sex couples.
Bethany, a Michigan-based evangelical organization, announced the change in an email to about 1,500 staff members that was signed by Chris Palusky, the organization’s president and chief executive. “We will now offer services with the love and compassion of Jesus to the many types of families who exist in our world today,” Mr. Palusky wrote. “We’re taking an ‘all hands on deck’ approach where all are welcome.”
The announcement is a significant departure for the 77-year-old organization, which is the largest Protestant adoption and foster agency in the United States. Bethany facilitated 3,406 foster placements and 1,123 adoptions in 2019, and has offices in 32 states. (The organization also works in refugee placement, and offers other services related to child and family welfare.) Previously, openly gay prospective foster and adoptive parents in most states were referred to other agencies.
The decision comes amid a high-stakes cultural and legal battle that features questions about sexuality, religious freedom, parenthood, family structure and theology.
Adoption is a potent issue in both conservative Christian and gay communities. Faith-based agencies play a substantial role in placing children in new families. Meanwhile, more than 20 percent of same-sex couples with children have an adopted child, compared to 3 percent of straight couples, according to a 2016 report from the Williams Institute at U.C.L.A. School of Law. Gay couples are also significantly likelier to have a foster child.
“To use a Christian term, this is good news,” said Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, a fellow with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. “For too long the public witness of Christianity has been anti-this or anti-that,” he added. “Today the focus is on serving children in need.”
Bethany’s practice of referring gay couples to other agencies was not official, the agency’s leaders say. “It was a general understanding that was pervasive,” said Susanne Jordan, a board member and former employee. But since 2007, the organization had a position statement saying that “God’s design for the family is a covenant and lifelong marriage of one man and one woman.”
Bethany’s informal policy became increasingly challenging for the organization in recent years, as various states and municipalities began requiring agencies to accept applications from L.G.B.T.Q. couples in order to maintain their government contracts.
When a lesbian couple in Philadelphia attended a Bethany information session on foster parenting in 2018, they were told “this organization has never placed a child with a same-sex couple,” one of the women told The Philadelphia Inquirer. They were eventually referred to another agency. Media reports prompted the city to suspend contracts with Bethany’s local branch and Catholic Social Services, an agency with the same practice.
Some faith-based agencies have challenged new requirements to work with gay clients in the courts. Catholic Social Services sued the City of Philadelphia over its contract suspension, a case that the Supreme Court heard in November. A ruling is expected by the end of June.
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SOURCE: The New York Times, Ruth Graham