National evangelical adoption agency will work with gay couples across U.S.

Bethany Christian Services, the largest Protestant adoption agency in the U.S., will now serve LGBTQ parents nationwide.

Chris Palusky, the organization's president, announced the policy change in an internal letter to employees Monday, The New York Times reported. The letter didn't specifically mention same-sex or LGBTQ couples, but it said "we will now offer services with the love and compassion of Jesus to the many types of families who exist in our world today," according to NBC affiliate WOOD of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Bethany Christian Services is based.

The 77-year-old organization, which operates in more than 30 states and a dozen countries, confirmed the policy change in an email.

"These days, families look a lot different than they did when we started. And Bethany is committed to welcoming and serving all of them," Nathan Bult, Bethany's senior vice president of public and government affairs, said in an email. "For us to carry out our mission, we are building a broad coalition of people – finding families and resources for children in the greatest need. The people we serve deserve to know they are worthy of being safe, loved, and connected. The need is great, so we are taking an 'all hands on deck' approach."

Nancy Nyman and Heather McNama-Nyman of Los Angeles, who have three adopted children and 10 years of experience as foster parents, said they're "very happy" about Bethany's policy change.

"It was kind of out of the blue," Nyman said. "I mean, this is one of the largest foster-adoption agencies in the country, and they're finally acknowledging the many different kinds of families that exist in our country."

Nyman said that she and her wife are spiritual people and that they've "always felt rejected by the Christian faith."

"It feels like we've always been fighting a battle for acceptance in that part of the community, and so this announcement, it's wonderful and also kind of mind-blowing," Nyman said.

Before Monday's announcement, Bethany Christian Services' policies about serving LGBTQ couples differed by state, said a spokesperson, who said Bethany’s operations in 12 states already had inclusive policies.

In some instances, the organization changed its policy as a result of litigation. In Michigan, for example, Bethany was reported to have started to work with LGBTQ prospective parents in April 2019 after the state reached a legal settlement with two same-sex couples who sued the state over its policy of allowing state-funded foster care and adoption agencies to refuse to work with LGBTQ prospective parents.

Perhaps most famously, it changed course in the Greater Delaware Valley area of Pennsylvania in June 2018 after The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Social Services wouldn't place the city's children with LGBTQ foster or adoptive parents. Following the report, the city suspended its contracts with both organizations. Bethany's contract was reinstated after it agreed to change its policy, The Inquirer reported, but the city's standoff with Catholic Social Services, which argued that it doesn't have to comply with certain nondiscrimination requirements because of its religious affiliation, has gone all the way to the Supreme Court. The high court heard the case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, in November, and a decision is expected this summer.

Related: Legal experts say the impact of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia could go beyond gay rights and impact nondiscrimination protections more broadly.

Palusky wrote in his letter that Bethany is "building a diverse coalition of Christians from various backgrounds and denominations who are passionate about helping children in great need."

Nyman said that resonated with her.

"That's so right, and that's kind of been our position all along," she said. "We're a same-sex couple. We're trying to do a good thing."

Nyman said LGBTQ couples are more likely to adopt than straight couples. A 2013 study by the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law, found that "same-sex couples are six times more likely than their different-sex counterparts to be raising foster children." The study found that about 2,600 same-sex couples were raising an estimated 3,400 foster children in the U.S.

In addition, same-sex couples who are raising children are four times more likely to be raising adopted children than their different-sex counterparts, the study found. Among couples with children under age 18, 13 percent of same-sex couples have adopted children compared to 3 percent of different-sex couples, according to the findings.

McNama-Nyman said the change in Bethany's policy is welcome, because "there's a definite need for more homes."

"Our hope is that more faith-based agencies will follow Bethany's lead," she said.

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