Lesbian couple sues South Carolina after being rejected as foster parents

A lesbian couple sued the Department of Health and Human Services and the government of South Carolina on Thursday over provisions that allow foster care agencies in the state to deny prospective parents based on their religion or other religious policies.

The lawsuit was filed by a coalition of civil rights groups on behalf of married couple Eden Rogers and Brandy Welch, including Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of South Carolina and the South Carolina Equality Coalition.

Rogers and Welch applied to become foster parents through the Miracle Hill Ministries, South Carolina’s largest state-contracted foster care agency. But HHS in January granted a waiver to federally funded groups in South Carolina allowing them to deny applicants based on their faith or sexual orientation.

Rogers and Welch’s application was denied earlier this month, and Miracle Hill Ministries said it felt “a religious obligation to partner with foster parents who share our beliefs and who are active in a Christian church.”

“We work hard to raise our own two girls in a loving and stable home,” Welch, who has two daughters with Rogers, said in a statement Thursday. “Faith is a part of our family life, so it is hurtful and insulting to us that Miracle Hill’s religious view of what a family must look like deprives foster children of a nurturing, supportive home.”

Rogers and Welch, who have been married for three years, are members of the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Church.

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LGBT parents challenge stereotypes in China

A girl looks at An Hui (L) and his partner Ye Jianbin walking with their sons, An Zhizhong, An Zhiya and An Zhifei at a residential community in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China September 17, 2018. The triplets were conceived with the help of a German egg donor.

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

An Hui's and Ye Jianbin's sons An Zhifei, An Zhizhong and An Zhiya, play next to their grandmother at home in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China September 18, 2018. The triplets were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

An Zhifei, one of An Hui's and Ye Jianbin's three sons, hugs his teacher as he and his brothers arrive at a kindergarten in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China September 18, 2018. The triplets were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

An Hui plays with An Zhizhong and An Zhifei, two of his three sons, at home after work, in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China September 18, 2018. An and his partner are fathers of triplets who were conceived with the help of a German egg donor.

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

An Zhizhong and An Zhifei, two of An Hui's and Ye Jianbin's three sons, play around a sofa at home in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China September 18, 2018. An and Ye are fathers of triplets who were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Ye Jianbin (L) helps his partner An Hui as they prepare to pose for a portrait at their office in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China September 18, 2018. An and Ye are fathers of triplets who were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

An Zhizhong, An Zhifei and An Zhiya play with a cleaning robot at their father An Hui's office in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China September 17, 2018. The triplets were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A real estate salesman wipes the sweat off of An Zhifei, one of An Hui's and Ye Jianbin's three sons, during a visit to a villa on sale in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, China December 6, 2018. An and his partner are fathers of triplets who were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

An Hui listens to An Zhiya, one of his three sons, at his office in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China, September 17, 2018. An and his partner are fathers of triplets who were conceived with the help of a German egg donor.

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

An Zhiya, one of An Hui's and Ye Jianbin's three sons, weighs fruits he carries, next to his grandmother at home in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China September 17, 2018. An and Ye are fathers of triplets who were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

A waiter helps An Hui (C) and his partner Ye Jianbin as one of their sons An Zhiya gets a nosebleed after a lunch at a restaurant in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China, September 17, 2018. An and Ye are fathers of triplets who were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

An Hui (R) and his partner Ye Jianbin leave kindergarten with their sons An Zhifei, An Zhiya and An Zhizhong in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, China December 6, 2018. The triplets were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

An Hui rests next to his sons (L-R) An Zhizhong, An Zhiya and An Zhifei on a sofa in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, China December 5, 2018. An and his partner are fathers of triplets who were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

An Zhizhong (R) and An Zhiya, two of An Hui's and Ye Jianbin's three sons, sleep at home in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China September 17, 2018. The triplets were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

An Hui's and Ye Jianbin's sons, An Zhizhong, An Zhifei and An Zhiya, walk to kindergarten in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China September 18, 2018. An and Ye are fathers of triplets who were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

An Zhifei, one of An Hui's and Ye Jianbin's three sons, stands next to his and his brothers' shoes at home in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, China December 5, 2018. An and Ye are fathers of triplets who were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

An Hui's partner Ye Jianbin helps their triplets (L-R) An Zhiya, An Zhizhong and An Zhifei eat breakfast at home in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China September 18, 2018. The triplets were conceived with the help of a German egg donor. 

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

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The president of Miracle Hill Ministries, Reid Lehman, said the group had encouraged the couple to work with other foster groups in the state.

“Our unique ability to partner with Christian parents who share our religious convictions has helped to greatly increase the pool of available foster homes,” Lehman told the Greenville News. “We are saddened that Ms. Rogers and Ms. Welch are unwilling to foster children if they cannot do so with Miracle Hill. We would be honored to work with them if they shared our religious convictions in belief and practice, and we’ve encouraged them to volunteer in other ways with our ministry if they would like to do so.”

HHS’ January decision came after South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) requested faith-based groups that receive federal funding be granted waivers to operate outside of nondiscrimination policies passed under the Obama administration. The Trump administration granted the request, prompting outcry from civil rights groups who likened the decision to state-sponsored discrimination.

“Trump’s HHS and South Carolina should not be permitting foster care agencies that receive taxpayer money to care for wards of the State to disqualify potential foster parents because they don’t conform to a religious litmus test,” Currey Cook, a director at Lambda Legal, said in a statement Thursday. “Agencies have no right to exclude families because of their faith or sexual orientation.”

Lynn Johnson, the assistant secretary for HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, defended the agency’s decision in January, saying the waiver would allow all foster care groups to remain open in South Carolina while protecting religious freedom.

“It protects minors who are in need of as many options as possible for being placed in loving foster families,” Johnson said at the time, according to the Greenville News. “The government should not be in the business of forcing foster care providers to close their doors because of their faith. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right.”

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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