LGBTQ Advocates sue HHS, South Carolina for discriminating against same-sex foster parents

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Brandy Welch and Eden Rogers (Photo by Nadia Awad/Lambda Legal Digital)

Brandy Welch and Eden Rogers (Photo by Nadia Awad/Lambda Legal Digital)

GREENVILLE, S.C. – Lambda Legal, the ACLU, ACLU of South Carolina, and South Carolina Equality Coalition are suing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the state of South Carolina on behalf of a married lesbian couple, Eden Rogers and Brandy Welch, who were turned away by a government-funded foster care agency.

The lawsuit alleges the couple was turned away for failing to meet the agency’s religious criteria, which exclude prospective foster parents who are not evangelical Protestant Christian or who are same-sex couples of any faith. Their application in April was denied by Miracle Hill Ministries, South Carolina’s largest state-contracted foster care agency, after South Carolina requested and HHS granted a waiver of federal nondiscrimination rules for federally funded agencies. In so doing, HHS and the State authorized and enabled taxpayer-funded foster care agencies to use religious criteria to exclude families based on their faith and sexual orientation.

“We work hard to raise our own two girls in a loving and stable home. 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,” said Brandy Welch in a statement. Welch and her wife, Eden Rogers are the parents of two daughters and they want to open their home to foster children in part because of Eden’s own family experiences.

“After family challenges, I helped raise my siblings. I know firsthand the fear and stress that children feel when they are forced to leave their homes,” Eden said. “As a mother and an educator, I want to make sure children in foster care have a safe, supportive, and loving home when they need one.”

HHS and South Carolina fund Miracle Hill with taxpayer money to perform child welfare services for children in state care even though Miracle Hill made clear that it excludes families based on Miracle Hill’s religious beliefs. In order to foster through Miracle Hill, a family must agree with Miracle Hill’s “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. HHS and South Carolina have sanctioned and facilitated the use of these religious criteria in the public child welfare system.

“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. Agencies have no right to exclude families because of their faith or sexual orientation. Think of all the potential loving and stable families excluded and the message that sends to youth in state care,” said Currey Cook, counsel and director of Youth in Out-Of-Home Care Project at Lambda Legal.

Lambda Legal, ACLU, and South Carolina Equality Coalition filed the lawsuit on Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on behalf of Eden and Brandy.

The lawsuit is Rogers v. HHS. Read a copy of the complaint here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/rogers_sc_20190530_complaint

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