February 7, 2020
by Andy Telli, Tennessee Register

The first law to pass during this year’s session of the Tennessee General Assembly protects faith-based adoption agencies who refuse to place children with same-sex couples because of their religious beliefs.
But the law won’t mean any changes for Catholic Charities of Tennessee’s adoption services.
“Our methods and practices and policies won’t change,” said Judy Orr, executive director of Catholic Charities.
The law says no licensed adoption agency will be required to participate in a child placement if doing so would “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.”
Also under the law, the state can not deny an agency a license or grant application for public funds because of the group’s refusal to place a child with a family based on religious objections.
Catholic Charities has always provided adoption services in conformity with Church teaching on marriage, which is that it should be reserved to the union of one man and one woman. “Male-female complementarity is essential to marriage. It makes possible authentic union and the generation of new life,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan.”
“Attempts to make same-sex unions the equivalent of marriage disregard the nature of marriage,” according to the pastoral letter.
Although Catholic Charities’ adoption services office does not place children with same-sex couples, it does refer them to agencies that do.
“Fundamentally, when a couple comes to us in that circumstance, we recognize that another agency might be a better fit for them,” Orr said. “We have a long-standing relationship with other agencies that will be a better fit.”
“We provide information, education and any kind of referral source along the way with any couple who comes to us” until they find another agency that will work with them, she added.
Referring clients to other agencies for help for social services happens often for Catholic Charities, Orr said. “We have a lot of services, but we don’t have all of them.”
Changes in society have changed the nature of much of Catholic Charities’ work with adoptions, Orr said.
“The adoption business is a very different business than it was even 20 years ago,” Orr said. “Adoption use to be cloaked in secrecy. That’s not the case today.”
In the past, if someone was interested in adopting a child or placing their child with an adoptive family, their only option was to open the Yellow Pages and look for an adoption agency, Orr said. Today, most adoptions are handled privately, rather than through an agency, she said.
“The vast majority of adoptions actually take place with private attorneys,” Orr said.
It’s not uncommon for families looking to adopt to set up their own web page describing their family for women searching the internet looking for a family to adopt their child, Orr said.
As much of the secrecy surrounding adoptions has evaporated, the adopting families and the birth mothers often establish a relationship that continues past the adoption.
Private adoptions also make it easier for people to work across state lines to place a child, Orr said. In those cases, both the adopting family and the birth mother are required to have their own attorney in the state where they live.
If the adopting family lives in Tennessee, the state requires a home study be conducted for the adopting family to determine if they meet all the state-mandated requirements to adopt.
“That is actually our expertise,” Orr said. Catholic Charities has a contract with the state to conduct adoption and foster care home studies to determine if a family is ready to parent.
“We’re placing on average of about five children a year in the more traditional adoption situation,” Orr said, but Catholic Charities each year conducts 25-30 home studies for international adoptions, 30-35 home studies for domestic adoptions, and about 450 home studies for foster care.
“We are called sometimes to do a home study for a situation like that and we do those,” Orr said of conducting for the state a home study of a same-sex couple.
“We don’t recommend a placement, we don’t do a placement, we simply do the home study,” to determine if the family meets the state criteria to adopt or be a foster parent, Orr said.
“People are more open about their same sex relationships than they used to be, particularly because same sex marriages are legal,” Orr said. “We’ve always respected those individuals and kept the interest of the child foremost in recommending whether a family is fit to parent.”
Catholic Charities is conducting more home studies in situations where a family has fallen victim to the opioid crisis and lost custody of their children, Orr said. The state will often look to place the children with a willing and qualified relative, she said, and ask Catholic Charities to conduct the home study.
“For us the foremost concern is a safe, loving place for a child,” Orr said. “That might be with a family member who is in a same sex relationship.”
Although the number of adoption placements Catholic Charities completes in a year is declining, “We do plenty of crisis pregnancy counseling,” Orr said. “Many of those people choose to keep their babies” rather than place them through an adoption.
“That model has really changed because of the openness of adoption and less stigma related to being an unwed parent,” Orr said.

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