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Gov. Henry McMaster visited Miracle Hill Ministries in Greenville on Aug. 27, 2018, to award CEO Reid Lehman with the Order of the Palmetto, the state's highest civilian honor. McMaster has worked in recent months to ensure Miracle Hill can continue denying foster care services to same-sex couples and non-Christian families. File/Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

COLUMBIA — A South Carolina lesbian couple is suing the Trump administration and Gov. Henry McMaster after they were denied services by a Greenville-based Christian foster care agency. 

Lambda Legal, the South Carolina Equality Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of South Carolina filed the lawsuit Thursday in federal court on behalf of Eden Rogers and Brandy Welch.

The couple was turned away by Miracle Hill Ministries, the state's largest government-funded foster care agency.

In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services granted McMaster’s request for a waiver allowing faith-based foster care agencies in the state to refuse families who do not follow their religious beliefs.

McMaster’s request was intended to protect Miracle Hill, supporters contend. The site serves about 15 percent of the state’s foster care families but limits the program to straight Christian families.

The couple says the policy is based on exclusion. 

"We work hard to raise our own two girls in a loving and stable home," Welch said. "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."

A Catholic mother has already filed a similar lawsuit, claiming she was discriminated against because she is not Protestant. 

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Prospective foster care parents can still pursue placements from other agencies around the state.

"Anybody who is willing to open their home to a child in need is providing a critically important service," said McMaster's spokesman, Brian Symmes. "Gov. McMaster’s position has nothing to do with keeping anyone from fostering children and has everything to do with protecting Miracle Hill’s ability to exercise its own religious freedom," he added.

Reid Lehman, the president and CEO of Miracle Hill, said the ministry told Welch and Rogers there are several other foster agencies in the Upstate available to them, as well as the state's Department of Social Services.

"Faith-based foster care agencies are working hard to end the foster care crisis and should be allowed to participate in the child welfare system while maintaining their religious convictions and practices," Lehman said.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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