Supreme Court court ruling cited in Kentucky child services dispute over gay rights, foster care

Published 5:15 am Friday, June 18, 2021

Republicans turned up pressure on Kentucky’s Democratic governor Thursday to renew a contract with a Baptist-affiliated children’s agency, reacting to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling they say should settle the dispute between religious beliefs and gay rights.

Gov. Andy Beshear was noncommittal about the future contract status of Sunrise Children’s Services. The foster care and adoption agency has balked at a nondiscrimination clause it says would compel it to sanction same-sex adoptions or foster parenting.

Pressed by reporters, Beshear acknowledged that “at least some of the initial language” in the high court’s ruling “suggests” it might settle the Kentucky dispute.

“If the Supreme Court says this accommodation has to be offered to Sunrise, it will be offered to them,” Beshear, a former attorney general, said at a news conference.

Sunrise’s attorney, John Sheller, said the high court ruling “applies fully” to the Kentucky dispute. If Kentucky “fails to follow it, it will invite litigation which the governor is sure to lose,” he said.

“The facts and law are virtually identical and legally indistinguishable,” Sheller said in an email.

The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously sided with a Catholic foster care agency that says its religious views prevent it from working with same-sex couples as foster parents. The court said the city of Philadelphia wrongly limited its relationship with the group as a result of the agency’s policy.

The Kentucky standoff revolves around a clause in a new contract with the state that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and that Sunrise Children’s Services is refusing to sign.

Sunrise officials say the disputed clause would compel them to violate deeply held religious principles by sponsoring same-sex couples as foster or adoptive parents. Supporters of the provision see it as a safeguard against discrimination.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron and the state’s GOP House and Senate lawmakers quickly pounced on the Supreme Court ruling to again press Beshear to renew Sunrise’s contract.