The Trump administration launched an assault on the rights of LGBTQ families in South Carolina by granting taxpayer-funded foster care agencies there the right to reject same-sex prospective parents.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has provided Miracle Hill Ministries — a blatantly homophobic South Carolina-based foster care agency that bans LGBTQ employees — with an exemption from HHS regulation 45 CFR §75.300(c), which states that no person will face discrimination in HHS programs and services based on a wide range of factors, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
The exemption marks the latest move by the Trump administration to curtail LGBTQ rights, which have seen major setbacks since the 2016 election. While the president is defending his ban on transgender people from serving in the military, he has also rescinded Obama-era guidance on transgender students’ rights, sided with the homophobic and transphobic Masterpiece Cakeshop baker, and, among other hostile actions, refused to recognize Pride Month.
The administration has utilized various federal agencies to attack the community, and this is not the first time it has turned to HHS in order to do so. Most recently, the administration considered and finally cut a key source of funding for HIV research in December.
In the case of adoptions in South Carolina, HHS sent a letter January 23 to Governor Henry McMaster stating that Miracle Hill and “any other subgrantee in the SC Foster Care Program that uses similar religious criteria in selecting among prospective foster care parents” had received approval for an religious-based exemption from the nondiscrimination regulation. That means other foster care agencies could also potentially carry out the same discrimination without repercussion.
The request for the religious exemption was sparked by Miracle Hill’s imminent demise after the state’s Department of Social Services opted not to renew the ministry’s license unless it complied with the HHS regulation. The governor, however, advanced a broader excuse for why the exception was needed: he argued the state’s overall foster care program would suffer as a result of the regulation.
When asked by Gay City News how the government could justify the exemption when Ministry Hill is receiving government funds, an HHS spokesperson refused to answer the question. Instead, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at HHS responded by blaming the Obama administration for implementing the new regulations and said the request from the state is to “protect the religious liberty of its faith-based foster care providers.”
“Faith-based organizations that provide foster care services not only perform a great service for their communities, they are exercising a legally-protected right to practice their faith through good works,” Lynn Johnson, who serves as the assistant secretary for ACF, told Gay City News in a written statement.
Johnson even went as far as saying that the exemption puts “foster care capacity needs ahead of burdensome regulations.”
Miracle Hill has already rejected same-sex couples seeking to adopt, according to South Carolina-based news outlet The State. A Jewish woman told Greenville Online, another local news outlet in the area, that she was turned away from volunteering at the agency after officials there told her that she did not share its Christian beliefs.
The ministry publicly states its homophobic and discriminatory hiring practices on its website under “Qualifications for Employment.” Employees are directed to “Live consistently with sexual activity expressed only within the boundaries of marriage as defined: We believe God’s design for marriage is the legal joining of one man and one woman in a life-long covenant relationship.”
The agency’s clear opposition to same-sex marriage leaves little doubt about the resistance same-sex parents will face in the event that they seek to adopt from Miracle Hill in the future. A spokesperson for Miracle Hill did not respond to requests for comment on Monday afternoon.
Equality South Carolina, which works to advance LGBTQ rights in the state, also could not be reached for comment.
As a contingency associated with the exemption, foster care agencies exempted will be required to refer rejected parents to other agencies that are more accepting. Whether or not Miracle Hill has been doing that — or will do so moving forward — is not clear.