A recent ruling by a district court will allow a New York state adoption agency to refuse to serve LGBTQ families – for now. The non-profit New Hope Family Services of Syracuse, New York, was instructed to stop its policy of sending same-sex or married couples away – or face being shut down – in 2018. Rather than comply, New Hope took the state’s Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) to court, claiming religious discrimination and violation of their 1st & 14th Amendment rights.
The courts initially dismissed their lawsuit, but an appeal led to the decision being vacated. Now receiving legal assistance from the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance for Defending Freedom (ADF), New Hope took their case in front of U.S. District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino. Last week, she placed an injunction on New York from shutting them down while the case is underway. In her decision, D’Agostino wrote that OCFS appears to “demonstrates some animosity towards particular religious beliefs” in their interpretation of anti-discrimination law.
New Hope used a “recusal-and-referral” policy, meaning they would turn away same-sex couples or other LGBTQ people seeking to start a family. If they found out a family in the adoption process was LGBTQ or unmarried, they would recuse themselves. In both scenarios, they choose to “refer” families to other agencies instead of outright denying them. In OCFS’ determination, such policy violated New York Domestic Relations Law, the state law established in 2013 banning discrimination in adoption services based on sexual orientation or marital status.
“While not all of the evidence discussed weighs in favor of a finding of hostility when viewed individually,” D’Agostino notes, she believes that “the totality of the evidence indicates that…OCFS is not neutral” in its enforcement of the relevant law. In 2018, OCFS also directed the Catholic Charities of Buffalo to stop turning away couples that were LGBTQ or unmarried. Rather than “comply with state regulation,” Catholic Charities opted to instead “conform to the teaching of the Catholic Church,” immediately closing their adoption agency — and leaving several families and support employees in the dust. In the last two years, they’ve been unable to meet their eight-figure fundraising goals to remain operating.
Since 2006, Catholic Charities has closed adoption agencies in other areas, such as in Boston and Illinois, rather than comply with anti-discrimination law. Similarly, a Christian adoption agency in Michigan earned an injunction last year against the state to prevent being shut down. The judge in that case also cited the agency’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” in allowing the non-profit to keep operating, rather than being shut down in accordance with recent state law.
“Thankfully, this ruling means that New Hope can continue offering the exceptional support it has provided for decades,” ADF Senior Counsel Roger Brooks said in a statement. “Every child deserves a home with a loving mother and father who are committed to each other,” New Hope Executive Director Kathy Jerman said after the ruling. She claimed that they are “an ‘arm-around-the-shoulder’ ministry that walks with adoptive families and birth parents alike,” and stressed that New York shouldn’t be shutting them down after their decades of work. “We live in a diverse state, and we need more adoption providers, not fewer,” Jerman stated.