Turzai’s budget season fast one: Catholic church gets an exemption on adoptions by same-sex couples| John L. Micek

June 24, 2019 3:40 pm

Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny (“Friends of Mike Turzai” / WikiMedia Commons)

[*This piece has been updated to include comment from Gov. Tom Wolf’s office]

So remember how we told you to watch the code bills for all kinds of mischief as the debate over the Pennsylvania budget rockets toward its closing hours this week?

Well that didn’t take long.

On Monday afternoon, state House Speaker Mike Turzai’s office shot out a press release announcing “his support for a religious exemption in law so that faith-based agencies in Pennsylvania can provide vital adoption and foster care services.”

That language is apparently destined for a code bill. Specifically, the Human Services Code, which oversees social welfare spending in the state.

But you wouldn’t have known it from reading Turzai’s press release — nor would you have known that the language was specifically intended to allow Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses from being forced to open themselves up to adoption and foster care from same-sex couples.

All it says that Turzia has “announced his support for a religious exemption in law so that faith-based agencies in Pennsylvania can provide vital adoption and foster care services.”

Turzai’s press release makes no mention of the fact that there’s apparently a legislative end-run afoot that would slip the language into the Human Services Code bill. Or, that, if it’s enacted, that it would specifically discriminate against same-sex couples who are looking to adopt, or to foster, children from religious providers.

For that, we have the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference to thank.

In a press release genuflecting before Turzai for his kindness, the super-powerful lobbying group that stomped statute of limitations reform to death last year, says this:

“The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference offers its heartfelt thanks to Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, for his strong support on the issue of a religious exemption for Catholic adoption agencies across the state,” the statement reads. “Turzai issued a statement this afternoon in response to a requirement by the Wolf administration that those adoption agencies be open to placing children in homes with same-sex parents. That goes against these Catholic services feel is best for the children — a home with a man and a woman as parents.”

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Again, Turzai’s carefully worded statement makes no mention of same-sex parents. All it says is that, “Wolf is discriminating against faith-based agencies by not providing an exemption for these organizations to provide the services for which they are so qualified to give.”

And we wouldn’t know that the language was being included in the Human Services Code without the breathless thanks of the Catholic Conference, which had apparently tired of the democratic process, and decided to play hardball instead:

“We can’t thank the Speaker enough for the work he has done on this issue, which is crucial to our mission as Catholics,” its executive director, Eric Failing, said in the statement. “We thank all the representatives and senators who have worked on our behalf on getting a religious exemption placed in the Human Services Code in the state budget. This is a critical time for the future of faith-based adoption and foster care. We know that any standalone bill will be vetoed and requests before the administration have been unsuccessful.”

A senior House Republican aide told the Capital-Star that the language isn’t in the Human Services Code bill yet – so thank Heaven for small mercies. But the fact that it’s apparently under consideration is bad enough.

*Wolf’s spokesman, J.J. Abbott, said Monday that the Democratic administration “would veto legislation that contained that provision,” which sounds like a pretty firm throwing down of the gauntlet. 

In his statement, Turzai is at least politic enough to note that other adoption and foster agencies are free to do as they wish, even if that means handing kids over to same-sex couples where they might be at dire risk of being brought up by two parents who would love and cherish them just like a heterosexual couple might.

“We are not, in any way, saying that faith-based agencies are the only agencies that can provide the services. We are saying these faith-based agencies should be able to continue to pursue their mission to serve children,” he said.

Well thank goodness for that.

But again, it’s tough to get away from Turzai’s assertion that “our state, in fact the whole nation, is facing a crisis in foster care and adoption.” He also added that “the objective should be to take care of each and every child while respecting religious liberty, a concept on which the United States of America was founded.”

“Why would anyone want to prohibit any faith-based service from helping children to find great families in foster care or through adoption?”

No one is saying they can’t. But it seems to us that any move toward enshrining discrimination against LGBTQ Pennsylvanians in state law by pulling a legislative fast one with a code bill is about the most profoundly undemocratic way to achieve that goal.

And that has nothing to do with making life better for children. At all.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.