Kentucky Politics

Kentucky’s dispute with a Baptist adoption agency that turns away LGBTQ foster parents could be affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of a Catholic organization that also rejects same-sex couples.

On Thursday, the high court sided with Catholic Social Services, a private agency that sued the City of Philadelphia for refusing to renew an adoption and foster care contract due to local anti-discrimination laws.

Kentucky has been locked in a similar battle with Sunrise Children’s Services, a Baptist organization that has so far refused to renew its contract because of a clause that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation

The fight has become a top priority for elected Republicans in Kentucky, who accuse Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear of violating the organization’s religious freedoms.

It’s unclear exactly how the ruling will affect the contract dispute in Kentucky, but during a news conference on Thursday, Beshear said the Supreme Court ruling likely settled the issue, while also saying he thinks it’s “concerning” an adoption organization would preclude LGBTQ parents.

“In terms of contract and placement, we will follow federal law, and if that means this case resolves it, it resolves it,” Beshear said.

“Me personally, I have great friends who are gay parents. They are wonderful people, they are raising an amazing son. I’m concerned with any group that doesn’t see that and the amazing families that are right there.”

Sunrise Children’s Services has worked with the state since the 1970s. The organization is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which views homosexuality as sinful, doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage and is against ordaining gay ministers.

Beshear has said the nondiscrimination clause was included in Sunrise’s new contract as part of a Supreme Court decision from last summer affirming LGBTQ employment protections.

On Thursday, he said the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services was worried that without that clause, the state would be at risk of losing federal funding.

“That’s a pretty legitimate concern if you’re worried you’re going to lose every dollar going to every provider in the foster care system. If this resolves all that, we’ll move forward with Sunrise as a provider,” Beshear said.

After the ruling, Kentucky Republican officials quickly issued statements renewing their calls for Beshear to take the language out of Sunrise’s contract.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the ruling “is a victory for all Kentuckians and Americans of faith.”

“We will continue to fight to ensure the sacred liberties of our Constitution are upheld for Kentuckians and faith-based organizations across the Commonwealth.  To that end, we urge Governor Beshear to reinstate the contract with Sunrise Children’s Services in light of this unanimous ruling from the nation’s highest court.  Sunrise must be allowed to continue serving Kentucky’s children,” Cameron said in a statement.

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles called the decision “a victory for religious liberty and for religious nonprofit organizations.

“Today’s unanimous ruling applies here in Kentucky to the stand-off between Governor Andrew Beshear’s administration and Sunrise Children’s Services and underscores the position I outlined a couple weeks ago: there is no good reason the Governor cannot give a contract to Sunrise, just like Kentucky’s previous governors did,” Quarles said in a statement.

House Speaker David Osborne said the ruling “clearly supports the ability of our state to continue a relationship that has ensured Kentucky’s most vulnerable children are cared for by an organization with an impeccable record of service.”

Sunrise Children’s Services serves about 1,000 children and has been locked in a 21-year-old federal lawsuit over claims that it indoctrinates children in its care, allegedly violating the separation of church and state because the organization receives public funds.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.