Catholic Charities announced today that it was dropping its legal battle over Illinois’ civil unions law, and will stop providing foster care and adoption services to families in the state.

The group wanted to continue its adoption work in the state, but was seeking to avoid a new civil union law which requires same-sex unions to be treated in the same way as marriage.

They had wanted to continue referring unmarried couples interested in becoming adoptive or foster parents to other agencies, citing principles of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

The state of Illinois had said that was discriminatory, in contravention of the law.

In a joint statement, officials in Joliet, Springfield and Belleville said the decision was reached “with great reluctance.”

The Catholic Diocese of Peoria had withdrawn last month.

The body claims it became financially impossible for the remaining Roman Catholic agencies to continue and the courts had refused to grant a stay in the case.

Lawyers said “the actions of the State have prevented the Charities from being able to obtain relief from the Illinois court system.”

The three diocese concluded in their statement: “Since we now need to close offices and terminate employees, further appeals would be moot”.

Anthony Martinez of The Civil Rights Agenda, an Illinois gay rights group, said: “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”.

“Dropping this suit is a step in the right direction for what is best for all the citizens of this great state.”