Catholic Charities' move to stop adoption work focuses new attention on same-sex couples who adopt children.
In the two decades since it's been a licensed state adoption agency, Catholic Charities of Boston has placed a tiny number of children with gay parents: 13 of 720 adoptions. But when those adoptions became public knowledge, the archdiocese's bishops - following a Vatican directive - announced they had to stop.
The result was a showdown with lawmakers as the bishops tried to get an exemption from the state's nondiscrimination clause and, ultimately, decided to exit the adoption business entirely.
Catholic Charities' withdrawal is the most recent and the most dramatic development on a topic that some see as the next wedge issue in the culture wars. But it may prove less divisive than gay marriage, many observers say.
In the wake of successful constitutional amendments or laws banning gay marriage, several states are considering laws targeting gay adoption. Catholic Charities in San Francisco is under similar pressure to halt gay adoptions. Observers are watching to see if other faith-based organizations follow suit.
"This is certainly a symptom of a divide within the [Catholic] church today, that runs right through the issue of homosexuality," says Timothy Muldoon, director of the nonpartisan Church in the 21st Century Center at Boston College. The bishops and the Vatican "are concerned with human rights, but they're also fundamentally concerned with particularly creating a culture that supports the family."
The divide is hardly unique to the Catholic church, and conservatives, gay rights groups, and child-welfare organizations are eyeing the growing momentum behind efforts to ban or limit same-sex adoptions.
"Now that we've defined what family is, then the next step should be to place children in that definition," says Greg Quinlan of the conservative Pro-Family Network.