Monday, July 11, 2011

Illinois Lied about Civil Unions Law – A Lesson for Other States

When a bill creating civil unions in Illinois was signed by Governor Pat Quinn in January, sponsors and activists for the law agreed that its provisions would not affect religious social service or adoption agencies. Now, quite predictably, it has. Today, the AP reports that Governor Quinn has determined the State of Illinois can no longer contract with Catholic Charities for adoption and foster care services because the charities don’t comply with the Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act.

The reason for “religious freedom” preceding “civil union” in the title of the law now appears to have been entirely cosmetic. Opponents of the bill charged that creating civil unions would impinge on religious freedom. The bill’s proponents went out of their way to say it would not – in order to get it passed.

According to an op-ed in the Quad City Times,

The bill sponsor, Sen. David Koehler, clearly promised in his Senate floor testimony that the law would not impact “the social services” or the “adoption agencies” of religious organizations.

Equality Illinois, a major proponent of the bill, even put together a widely distributed Q & A on the bill intended to dismiss “myths” about the bill’s intentions. One question read:

5.      How would the Act affect religious affiliated adoption agencies?

Answer: The Act would not impact faith-based adoption agencies or adoption procedures. The Act does not amend the Adoption Act, which governs both public and private adoption agencies.

But then the bill passed, and religious freedom went out the window as some in state government, the Catholic governor included, began to argue that the passed bill does not in fact exempt Catholic Charities from facilitating adoptions to those in civil unions.

The position of the state government on the religious freedom provisions of the law was so contrary to the rhetoric leading up to the bill’s passage, that in April, original sponsor Sen. David Koehler introduced an amendment to make it absolutely clear that:

“A child welfare agency that is religiously based or owned by, operated by, or affiliated with a bona fide religious organization may decline an adoption or foster family home application, including any related licensure and placement, from a party to a civil union if acceptance of that application would constitute a violation of the organization’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Under fire for introducing the amendment, Koehler said he had to keep the guarantee he made on religious freedom when he was championing the civil unions bill. “No group should have to go against what its religious principles were and that included organizations that were involved in adoption,” he told WBEZ radio.

Koehler’s amendment failed 7-6 in the Senate’s Executive Committee. For Illinois civil union supporters, the time for supporting guarantees of religious freedom had passed. With civil unions now the law, civil unions will also be the hammer against religious freedom that anybody could have predicted they would be. Everywhere civil unions or same-sex marriages have become the law, they have been used to shut Catholic Charities out of adoption and foster care services. And there is no reason to expect they won’t be used to erode other religious freedoms down the road.

Other states would do well to consider Illinois’ experience. When it comes to the hierarchy of freedoms in a post-civil union/same-sex marriage state, the desires of same-sex couples for affirmation trumps every other right – no matter how well you craft your legislation. It is far safer not to consider civil unions at all.