Supreme Court Hands Down Narrow, Case-Specific Ruling in Fulton v. Philadelphia

The Court’s decision focuses on the particular facts of this case and allows governments to continue to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Washington, D.C.—Today, the Supreme Court issued a very narrow ruling in favor of Catholic Social Services (CSS) in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The ruling, specific to the circumstances of this case, held that the City of Philadelphia violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment because it failed to grant CSS an exemption from the City’s nondiscrimination requirements even though the City’s contract provisions allowed it the discretion to provide such an exemption. Significantly, the Court’s decision does not undermine cities’ and states’ ability to prohibit discrimination in taxpayer-funded services.  

The case came before the Supreme Court after Catholic Social Services (“CSS”), a faith-based foster care agency, refused to license same-sex couples as foster parents, despite a provision in Philadelphia’s contract prohibiting all city contractors from discriminating. 

“While today may have been a loss for the City of Philadelphia, it was a victory for the principle that nondiscrimination protections that our families depend upon are valid and enforceable when properly implemented,” says Family Equality’s CEO, Stacey Stevenson. “Today’s decision once again affirms that state and local governments can maintain laws that protect everyone—including LGBTQ+ youth, families, and prospective parents—from discrimination in government services.”  

“The Court’s decision is yet another reminder of the importance of legislation like the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act and the Equality Act,” says Chief Policy Officer, Shelbi Day. “We urgently need more local, state, and nationwide nondiscrimination protections to ensure that the more than 400,000 youth in foster care have the best possible chance of finding safe, affirming homes.” 

In August 2020, Family Equality—joined by PFLAG National and represented by our pro bono counsel, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, LLP—submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of the City of Philadelphia, sharing the stories of LGBTQ+ adults who have been discriminated against when trying to foster and adopt children to illustrate the real-life impact of making it harder to find homes for the more than 400,000 children in care who need them.  

Family Equality will join NEAT and other partners for a Virtual Rally (7:00 p.m. ET) and Town Hall to react to the decision with speakers, performances, and experts providing analysis of the opinion. RSVP at

To read more about the case:

About Family Equality

Family Equality advances legal and lived equality for LGBTQ+ families, and for those who wish to form them, through building community, changing hearts and minds, and driving policy change. Family Equality believes every LGBTQ+ person should have the right and opportunity to form and sustain a loving family, regardless of who they are or where they live. Learn more at

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