The legal battle between Catholic Charities and the state of Illinois over the organization's state-funded adoption and foster care contracts, and their refusal to grant those services to same-sex couples in civil unions, is finally over. The dioceses of Joliet, Springfield, and Belleville released a statement saying they were withdrawing their lawsuit with "reluctance."
Illinois ended the over $30 million dollars in annual contracts with Catholic Charities after the organization said they would refuse to offer its tax-payer funded services to same-sex couples in civil unions. Roughly 25% of adoption services paid for by the state and by tax dollars were provided by Catholic Charities. Those services are now available to the over 1,600 couples in civil unions in Illinois, which means more potential homes for kids in need of a loving family that will be judged by what is best for the child and not by religious belief or dogma.
The legal battle had not been going well for Catholic Charities. Circuit Judge John Schmidt had ruled earlier that the state does not have to renew its foster and adoption contracts with Catholic Charities, denied the group's emergency request for a stay of his decision, and refused to reconsider his ruling. The state has already been transitioning the group's 2,000 foster care and adoption cases to other agencies that comply with the newly enacted Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act.
Anthony Martinez, executive director of the pro-equality group The Civil Rights Agenda, praised the end of the lawsuit:
"I am encouraged to hear that Catholic Charities has realized they cannot win this lawsuit. This case and the legislation that has been introduced multiple times this year is all about prioritizing religion over what is best for the children in their care. Finding a loving home for the thousands of children in the foster/adoption system should be the priority, not trying to exclude people based on religious dogma. Dropping this suit is a step in the right direction for what is best for all the citizens of this great state."
The Catholic Church in Illinois isn't getting out of the civil union and marriage equality fight completely, however. The Catholic Conference of Illinois recently announced the formation of a "Defense of Marriage" department whose purpose is to fight any future attempts to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. The stated purpose of the department is to protect the "stature of the nuclear family - which provides love, stability and confidence to children, as well as organization to society."
Zach Wichmann, head of the department, said the department will be "fighting an uphill battle against current societal trends." The same public statement from the "Defense of Marriage" department set a clear tone and laid out the arguments the church will be making moving forward:
"The teachings of the Church are not overwhelmingly popular everywhere, nor are they always easily explained. But our message will be proclaimed for the sake of stronger families, secure children and an enriched spiritual life. The effects (of same-sex marriage) are evident in the performance of children in school, in truancy and crime rates, and in an ailing culture that too often values feeling good over self-giving, and individuality over the common good."
So while the end of Catholic Charities' adoption contract lawsuit is a victory for the equal application of the law and state services, the fight between civil rights and equality for LGBT Americans and powerful religious organizations like the Catholic Church is far from over.