The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that Philadelphia could not cancel a contract with a Catholic foster agency over its refusal to let same-sex couples adopt. The court’s opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, stated that the city’s decision violated the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause. “[Catholic Social Services] seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else,” he wrote. “The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless it agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny, and violates the First Amendment.”
Roberts wrote that since the city’s contract with foster agencies allows for exceptions for religious reasons, it could have granted one for Catholic Social Services. According to SCOTUS Blog, the court essentially treated the case as a contracts dispute rather than addressing the question of whether state or local anti-discrimination laws violate the First Amendment. Roberts wrote that, due to the lengthy application process adoptive parents go through, CSS could not be reasonably considered a “public accommodation” that would warrant it accommodating same-sex couples against its religious beliefs. “Certification as a foster parent is not readily accessible to the public,” Roberts wrote. “The process involves a customized and selective assessment that bears little resemblance to staying in a hotel, eating at a restaurant, or riding a bus.”
LGBTQ+ rights lawyers had previously warned that a ruling in favor of the adoption agency could effectively lead to the legalization of discrimination in public contracts.