After giving religion-based agencies that place foster children carte blanche to discriminate against prospective LGBTQ+ parents, the Trump administration will be forced to defend their decision in federal court.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Cain, of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, rejected the administration efforts to dismiss a lawsuit from Eden Rogers and Brandy Welch, a South Carolina lesbian couple on Saturday. Rogers and Welch sought to become foster parents through South Carolina's largest state-contracted foster care agency, Miracle Hill Ministries. But the evangelical Protestant organization forces prospective parents to sign a doctrinal statement that admonishes same-sex relationships, among other things, according to Lambda Legal, one of the groups representing the couple.
Under a 2016 provision from President Obama, government-funded foster and adoption agencies were no longer allowed to discriminate against prospective LGBTQ+ parents, as well as single parents, divorced parents, or those not adhering to a specific religion. Many Christian-run agencies bristled at the requirement, including a Catholic agency that sued Philadelphia after the city rescinded its contract because of its anti-queer policies; that case is headed to the Supreme Court and could influence the South Carolina case.
Miracle Hill, meanwhile, saw their license with South Carolina downgraded from regular to provisional in light of the Obama guidance. Then, in 2018, the state's Republican governor signed an executive order where state-funded agencies would no longer be penalized for discriminating. Governor Henry McMaster then requested a waiver from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to allow the bigotry and, under Trump's guidance, it was approved. The Trump administration is now working to codify the "license to discriminate" nationally.
Rogers and Welch, already parenting two children, sued HHS, saying their approval of the waiver was discriminatory and violated the constitution. HHS officials worked to get the case dropped, saying they were not responsible for the actions of Miracle Hill or South Carolina, also contending the women couldn't prove they were harmed by the federal government's actions. But Judge Cain disagreed, moving the suit to trial.
“This is great news, and we look forward to Eden’s and Brandy’s day in court,” Currey Cook, Counsel and Director of the Youth In Out-Of-Home Care Project at Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “No child in foster care who can’t safely be with their family should be denied the opportunity of a loving and nurturing foster home simply because the prospective parents don’t meet a taxpayer-funded agency’s religious litmus test. Eden’s and Brandy’s faith and sexual orientation have no bearing on their suitability to provide a home for children in need.”
Rogers and Welch are also anxious to defend themselves and all prospective LGBTQ+ parents.
“We are very excited to hear our case is going forward in court,” the women 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.”