A recent article in the NY Times reports on the effect of Illinois’ same-sex union law on Catholic Charities’ foster-care placement services. In particular, the article notes that non-discrimination provisions in the law, which require Catholic Charities to treat couples in same-sex unions the same as those in traditional marriages when placing children in foster care, has caused the organization to cease offering foster-care services altogether. Catholic Charities also ceased foster-care services in Massachusetts and Washington DC when same-sex marriage became law those jurisdictions. Focusing on these three jurisdictions, the Times article suggests that these non-discrimination provisions are a form of increasing government religious persecution aimed at excluding religious groups from the public sphere. However, the article ignores those legislatures which have worked hard to protect the freedom of religious organizations through religious exceptions.
New York, New Hampshire and Vermont all allow wide exceptions for religious organizations that oppose same-sex unions. These states provide that religious organizations do not violate non-discrimination provisions when they take actions that are calculated to promote the religious principles for which they are established or maintained. Such exceptions have been integral to the passing of the same-sex marriage laws. In New Hampshire, Governor John Lynch refused to sign a same-sex marriage bill into law until the legislature increased the protections for religious organizations. In New York, the Republican members of the Senate who ultimately provided the necessary votes for same-sex marriage said that they could vote for the bill only because it protected religious organizations. Indeed, far from persecuting religion, these states have extensively debated how to balance the rights of these religious organizations with the policy of non-discrimination.