Authors: By SOPHIA TAREEN
CHICAGO (AP) -- Catholic Charities announced Monday that it was ending its legal battle over Illinois' civil unions law and no longer is providing state-funded services.
The move ends the group's long history in Illinois of providing foster care and adoptions. Catholic Charities held foster care contracts with the state of Illinois for about four decades.
The group had wished to continue its state contracts, while also referring unmarried couples who want to be adoptive or foster parents to other agencies, citing principles of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
The state of Illinois had said that longstanding practice is discriminatory, a violation of the new law, which allows unmarried couples - gay or straight - to legally enter into civil unions.
In a joint statement Monday, diocese officials in Joliet, Springfield and Belleville said the decision was reached "with great reluctance." The Catholic Diocese of Peoria withdrew from the litigation last month.
It became financially impossible for the remaining Roman Catholic agencies to continue and the courts had refused to grant a stay in the case, the officials said.
"Since we now need to close offices and terminate employees, further appeals would be moot," said the statement from the three dioceses.
Officials with the Thomas Moore Society, which represented Illinois Catholic Charities in the litigation, said the state was already canceling its contracts and moving services to other agencies.
Gay rights advocates called the decision a step forward.
"Finding a loving home for the thousands of children in the foster/adoption system should be the priority, not trying to exclude people based on religious dogma," said Anthony Martinez of The Civil Rights Agenda, an Illinois gay rights group. "Dropping this suit is a step in the right direction for what is best for all the citizens of this great state."
The four dioceses - Peoria, Joliet, Springfield, and Bellville - represented up to 2,200 foster care and adoption cases.
Illinois ended contracts in July with Catholic Charities in all four dioceses because of the group's practice of referring unmarried couples to other agencies. A Sangamon County judge sided with Illinois and said the state could begin canceling contracts worth more than $30 million.
But Catholic officials appealed, saying the group shouldn't be forced to place children in unmarried couples' homes.