Catholic charities in Rockford, Illinois, have opted to cease all foster care services to avoid having to cater to gay couples.

The charities must comply with a new state law which says any organisation receiving state funds must not discriminate.

Rather than place children in need of homes with gay couples, they have chosen to stop offering foster care services altogether.

The case recalls a British Catholic charity’s legal battle to bypass equality laws.

Leeds-based Catholic Care lost the latest round of its fight at a tribunal last month. It says it should not be forced to accept gay couples.

In Illinois, the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act goes into effect on June 1st. It says bodies receiving state funding must treat gay couples equally. Couples in civil unions must be treated the same as straight married people.

Catholic Charities of Rockford attempted to secure an amendment to exempt them from the law but were unsuccessful.

The organisation receives $7.5 million a year and handles around 350 adoption and foster cases.

In a statement yesterday, the organisation said 58 jobs would be lost as a result of the decision.

Penny Wiegert, the Rockford diocese’s director of communication, said: “The law of our land has always guaranteed its people freedom of religion. Denying this exemption to faith-based agencies leads one to believe that our lawmakers prefer laws that guarantee freedom from religion.

“We simply can not compromise the spirit that motivates us to deliver quality, professional services to families by letting our state define our religious teachings.”

Anthony Martinez, executive director of the Civil Rights Agenda, said it was “sad” that children would be denied fostering services by the “bigoted” charity.

“This is a sad display of bigotry by Catholic Charities, and their bigotry will now be harming children in their care,” he said. “It is equally sad that they would invoke ‘Freedom of Religion’ as they make this announcement. That freedom is granted only when the religious agency is not funded by taxpayer dollars, and they are well aware of that.”

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services said cases handled by Catholic Charities of Rockford would be taken over by private agencies.