Same-sex adoption a federal issue

February 19, 2019 07:21 PM

ALBANY - New Hope Family Services, based in Syracuse, has been arranging child adoptions since 1965. Their longstanding policy is to find forever homes for children where the mother and father are married.

When the New York State Office of Children and Family Services found out New Hope Ministries refuses to consider same-sex couples as suitable parents, an ultimatum was issued for them to either change their ways or else get out of the adoption business.

"Asking people of faith to engage and participate and facilitate something and speak something that they believe to be wrong, we've argued, is inconsistent with our constitutional rights as citizens," said Roger Brooks, the attorney arguing New Hope's case in federal court.

During two hours of oral arguments in front of U.S. Magistrate Mae D'Agostino Tuesday morning, Brooks, and Attorney Adrienne Kerwin, representing the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, argued the merits of both positions.

"This doesn't force them to do anything other than obey the law," Kerwin stated. "There can be no exceptions when it comes to following the law. To grant an exemption is not equal protection."

Kerwin's court arguments were in line with a statement released by the OCFS, which read in part: Discrimination of any kind is illegal and OCFS will vigorously enforce the laws designed to protect the rights of children and same sex couples. In New York state, we welcome all families who are ready to provide loving and nurturing homes to foster or adoptive children. There is no place for providers that choose not to follow the law."

"(The judge) asked both sides a lot of hard questions," Brooks asserted. "This is a serious argument and we certainly hope she will very soon rule and we hope it's in a way that keeps New Hope serving the children of this state as it has been."

In a letter sent to New Hope last year, OCFS advised the ministry if they fail to bring their policy into compliance, they would be required to submit a close-out plan for the adoption program. That letter is what triggered the lawsuit.

"Letting faith groups behave according to their religious beliefs and act and teach according to their religious beliefs, we have a lot of different beliefs in this country and there's room for all," Brooks added. "That's part of the principle of what the First Amendment is about."

In the past several years, faith-based adoption and foster care providers in Massachusetts, Illinois, Washington D.C. and California have ceased operations, unwilling to place children with same-sex couples.

In Western New York, Catholic Charities of Buffalo halted adoption and foster services last year due to conflicts with state and local non-discrimination policies.


Dan Levy

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