Cal. Litig. 2020, Volume 33, Number 2

That Family Is Wrong for You: Religious Objections Before the Supreme Court

By Peter Renn

Peter Renn is Counsel in the Los Angeles office of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a taxpayer-funded foster care provider’s religious objection to protections against sexual orientation discrimination in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (2019) 922 F.3d 140. The decision could have significant implications for the ability of government to enforce nondiscrimination requirements. If decided broadly, Fulton also has the potential to reshape much of law as we know it, ushering a new era of expanded litigation over religious objections to virtually any legal obligation.

Fulton asks whether it is constitutionally permissible for the City of Philadelphia to require that its foster care providers, who are contracted to provide government services, comply with the City’s nondiscrimination policy. The provider at issue, Catholic Social Services (CSS), refuses to work with married same-sex couples seeking to serve as foster parents because of its religious belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. That refusal violates the City’s nondiscrimination protections, which bar discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, and other characteristics. After learning of that refusal policy, the City did not renew its contract with CSS. CSS seeks an injunction to force the City to renew its contract — while also permitting CSS to engage in otherwise prohibited discriminatory conduct.

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