The ACLU of Illinois intervened in a case challenging Catholic Charities’ policy of providing adoption and foster care services on behalf of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in a fashion that excludes unmarried couples even if they entered into a civil union. 

Because the case pre-dated the Illinois statute which allows lesbians and gay couples to marry, the a policy intentionally excluded all lesbian and gay couples—no matter how well-qualified—from providing loving homes for these children. We intervened because we know, based on testimony of child welfare experts, that this policy harmed children in the custody of DCFS and discriminated against unmarried, especially same-sex couples, who were qualified to act as foster or adoptive parents.

The federal constitution and state law require the State of Illinois to make all decisions with regard to children in DCFS care solely on the basis of their “best interests” and not the religious beliefs of a private foster agency. “Best interests,” according to experts in child welfare policy, require the state to consider only how a placement affects the child–whether the unique skills and characteristics of the potential parent or parents best fit the needs of the child resulting in a safe, loving and stable home. These Catholic Charities agencies, who entered into contracts to perform state functions of deciding where to place the state’s wards and screening homes for foster care licenses, sought judicial authority to elevate their religious views about lesbian and gay couples over the best interests of the children under their care.

Ultimately, the court ruled that DCFS had the authority to terminate its contract with Catholic Charities, preventing the agencies from discriminating in the provision of services.


Harvey Grossman, Ben Wolf, John Knight, Karen Sheley, Lori Turner

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Schiff Hardin LLP

Date filed

June 7, 2011


Circuit Court for the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Sangamon County, Illinois


John Schmidt



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