WASHINGTON, DC — Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia that the City of Philadelphia violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by failing to give Catholic Social Services (CSS) an exemption from the nondiscrimination provision in city contracts, even though the contract authorized exemptions and the City had granted exemptions to other providers.
The case arose when CSS sued the City for refusing to give the agency an exemption that would allow it to refrain from certifying married same-sex couples to be foster and adoptive parents. The Court held that "[t]he City offers no compelling reason why it has a particular interest in denying an exception to CSS while making them available to others."
The opinion by the court written by Chief Justice Roberts was signed onto by justices Breyer, Kagan, Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Sotomayor. The decision was unanimous.
"Properly understood, today's decision is a significant victory for LGBTQ people," said Shannon Minter, NCLR Legal Director. "The Court ruled in favor of Catholic Social Services, but on the narrowest possible ground, based on language in the City of Philadelphia's contract that authorized individualized exemptions for any provider. The Court did not change the current constitutional framework, which permits governments to enforce antidiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people even when doing so may have a disparate burden on those who hold certain religious beliefs. As a result of today's decision, those who feared the Court might create a sweeping new religious exemption to such laws can breathe a sigh of relief."
"This narrow ruling allows governments to continue to prohibit discrimination not only against LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents but also against LGBTQ parents who are often wrongfully separated from their children by discriminatory child welfare practices that unfairly target parents who are poor, LGBTQ, disabled, or people of color," said Cathy Sakimura, NCLR Deputy Director and Family Law Director."Today's decision preserves the critical ability of governments to prohibit such rampant discrimination, which is an urgent need."
Especially in light of today's ruling, NCLR urges Congress to pass the Equality Act to update our nation's civil rights laws to ensure explicit protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) is a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. Since its founding, NCLR has maintained a longstanding commitment to racial and economic justice and the LGBTQ community's most vulnerable. www.nclrights.org