Christian-backed foster agency says it’ll punish kids if it can’t discriminate against gay couples

·3-min read

A foster agency with ties to the Baptist in Kentucky has said it will punish children if it’s not allowed to freely discriminate queer couples.

Sunrise Children’s Services has refused to sign a contract with the state of Kentucky unless it is given an exemption on religious grounds to bar queer couples from adopting.

The agency, one of the largest and oldest in the state, must renew its contract with the Kentucky State Cabinet for Health and Family Services each year to secure vital funding to support its users.

But a standoff has been sparked around a new clause from state officials to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to the Associated Press.

Sunrise leaders have refused to renew the contract, claiming that sponsoring same-sex couples as foster or adoptive parents could clash against their religious beliefs.

According to the agency’s website, Sunrise Children’s Services provides care for around 1,000 abused and neglected children and family members statewide.

And if the state loses Sunrise, which it has been contracted with for at least 50 years and is one of Kentucky’s largest service providers, it places an already strained child welfare system into further jeopardy.

“You cannot pivot from losing such a large provider of child welfare services and not anticipate some degree of disruption,” Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, told AP.

This almost blunt dismissal of Sunrise’s willingness to compromise its care for children in favour of religious beliefs was shared among local LGBT+ advocacy groups

“If Sunrise Children’s Services doesn’t want to abide by that, that’s fine,” said Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign.

“They shouldn’t have access to state money, state contracts or children in the state’s care.”

Moreover, Hartman alleged that LGBT+ young people in Sunrise’s care are “deeply closeted” out of fear of “indoctrination and proselytization”.

Such claims, Sunrise’s attorney John Sheller said, are “outrageous”. The shelter “willingly and gladly” accepts queer youth and will not, he alleged, force them to undergo conversion therapy.

The agency has until 30 June to sign the contract. If it does decline, Kentucky state officials have vowed to stop placing children into the agency’s care as well as cut access to state funding.

It’s the latest round between LGBT+ rights and Sunrise Children’s Services, which has long been dogged by criticism for its anti-queer policies that are, in part, the upshot of its entrenched ties to the Baptist church.

In 2014, Sunrise bosses sought to peel back its ban on hiring queer people. At the time, similar concerns over a loss of taxpayer funding were floated amid then proposed anti-discrimination legislation.

But the Sunrise board shot down the bid and the Kentucky Baptist Convention passed a no-confidence vote to boot the boss out of the agency.

The swift reprisal came after Church benefactors across Kentucky choked it of their donations.

It all comes amid a showdown between religious freedoms and LGBT+ rights in the Supreme Court.

In just weeks, a decision is expected to be handed down about a case in Pennsylvania where a Catholic adoption and foster care agency refused to sig a contract that didn’t allow it to discrimination against LGBT+ people.

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