A lesbian couple in South Carolina are bringing a historic court fight against the policy that allowed a state-funded agency to bar same-sex couples from fostering children.
Eden Rogers and Brandy Welch were turned away by a government-funded adoption agency because they, as a lesbian couple, did not meet its criteria – to not be a same-sex couple.
Miracle Hill Ministries, which is South Carolina’s largest state-contracted foster care agency, used religious criteria to bar Rogers and Welch from fostering with them in April 2019.
The couple, who already have two daughters, were backed by ACLU and Lambda Legal in bringing a legal challenge against the policy barring same-sex couples from fostering – but Miracle Hill Ministries and the state of South Carolina applied to have the case thrown out.
This week, a district judge ruled that the case would go ahead, and Rogers and Welch would get their day in court.
“We are very excited to hear our case is going forward in court,” Rogers and Welch said in a statement.
“There are many children in South Carolina that need foster homes, and we remain hopeful that couples like us can provide children a lovely home without being rejected or discriminated against.”
Miracle Hill Ministries was able to reject the lesbian couple’s foster application because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services granted South Carolina’s request for a waiver of nondiscrimination rules for federally funded agencies.
By doing this, the Department of health enabled discrimination against LGBT+ families trying to foster children.
“The federal government told the over 400,000 children in our nation’s foster care system that the religious beliefs of the agencies caring for them come before their needs,” said Leslia Cooper, deputy director of ACLU’s LGBT and HIV project, in a statement.
“Today a federal court pushed back, saying that allowing taxpayer-funded agencies to turn away qualified families because of an agency’s religious criteria violates the Constitution,” she added.
Families who want to foster through Miracle Hill Ministries must sign its “doctrinal statement”, including “that God’s design for marriage is the legal joining of one man and one woman in a life-long covenant relationship” – a requirement that excludes same-sex couples of any faith.
The Department of Health and South Carolina have sanctioned and facilitated the use of these religious criteria in the public child-welfare system.
“The thousands of children in South Carolina’s foster care system are the ones who suffer most when agencies like Miracle Hill use religion as a license to discriminate against people who can provide a loving, nurturing home,” saidSusan Dunn, legal director for the ACLU of South Carolina.
“By allowing this practice to continue, the state of South Carolina and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have failed the vulnerable children they are supposed to be helping.
“We are excited this case is moving ahead and look forward to continuing the fight against government using religion to deprive children of loving homes.”