FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky reached a contract deal Thursday to continue placing youngsters with a Baptist-affiliated children’s agency, coming after the Democratic governor's administration removed LGBTQ anti-discrimination language that the agency steadfastly refused to sign.
The agreement continues the state's long relationship with Sunrise Children’s Services — a foster care and adoption agency. Sunrise also offers residential treatment programs, serving some of the most vulnerable children in a state with consistently some of the nation’s worst child abuse rates.
The state Cabinet for Health and Family Services said in an email Thursday that it entered into the new one-year contract agreement to continue placing children with Sunrise.
Sunrise’s attorney, John Sheller, said the agreement includes language protecting his client's “sincerely held religious beliefs.” It reflects what Sunrise had requested, he said, adding the agency “is grateful that the commonwealth has decided to follow the law” after prolonged uncertainty.
Sunrise officials say the disputed anti-discrimination language would have compelled them to violate deeply held religious principles by sponsoring same-sex couples as foster parents. Sunrise is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, consisting of nearly 2,400 churches with a total membership of about 600,000 people. The faith views homosexuality as a sin.
In the Pennsylvania case, the high court sided with a Catholic foster care agency that said its religious views prevented it from working with same-sex couples as foster parents.
Kentucky officials said Thursday that Sunrise agreed to refer any “service applicants who identify as LGBTQ to another provider in good standing” with the state's health and family services cabinet.
Sheller previously said that Sunrise already offers to help steer same-sex couples to other child services agencies that are a “better fit.” He said he was aware of a handful of such instances. Sheller has said that Sunrise “willingly and gladly” accepts LGBTQ youths and does not put children in conversion therapy, which tries to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Like many other states, Kentucky contracts with private agencies like Sunrise for some of its child welfare services. Beshear’s administration had set a June 30 deadline for Sunrise to sign a new contract, threatening to stop placing children with the agency if it refused. But the governor said recently that children were still being placed with Sunrise.
Formerly called Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, Sunrise’s history dates to caring for Civil War orphans. It has contracted with the state for more than 50 years.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, and GOP state lawmakers had pressed Beshear’s administration to renew Sunrise’s contract.
Bruce Schreiner, The Associated Press