By Anna Skinner
A couple is suing the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) after their foster parent application was denied.
Court documents filed on Tuesday said that Michael and Catherine Burke decided to become foster parents and try to adopt a child after experiencing problems with infertility. Their foster care application was denied in April after Massachusetts DCF staff were concerned over the couple’s responses to questions regarding care for an LGBTQ+ child. Their application was denied “based on the couple’s statements/responses regarding placement of children who identified LGBTQIA.” The denial said that the Burke family, who are practicing Catholics, would not be “affirming” to a child who identified as LGBTQ+.
The LGBTQ+ community has become a culture war battleground in the United States with a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state legislatures this year. Civil suits also have abounded over the issue, such as when a transgender former student sued a Missouri school district in August for forcing her to use the boys’ bathrooms or the single-stall gender-neutral bathroom.
Court documents argued that the Burkes would “never reject” a child, but they had strong religious beliefs about gender-affirming care.
“As faithful Catholics, the Burkes believe that all children should be loved and supported, and they would never reject a child placed in their home,” the document said. “They also believe that children should not undergo procedures that attempt to change their God-given sex, and they uphold Catholic beliefs about marriage and sexuality.”
According to emails from DCF members, the family “expressed frustration” at the decision and accused the DCF of “being discriminatory based on their religion”.
The court documents alleged that the DCF was attempting to ban Catholic families from fostering children because the families agreed with the church’s teaching on sex, marriage and gender. The DCF published an extensive list of regulations in 2018 for adopting or fostering a child. The regulations, which were last updated in January of this year, specifically said that foster parents must “promote the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of a child placed in his or her care, including supporting and respecting a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”
According to DCF staff, the Burkes didn’t meet this requirement of the regulations for LGBTQ+ children. The lawsuit demanded that the DCF cannot use the standards “to operate as a religious exclusion for potential foster parents.” It also asked for the DCF to “expunge or amend the Burkes’ file so that it no longer reflects Defendants’ discriminatory statements, actions, and denial, and to take any further appropriate actions to prevent further harm from the discriminatory denial” and requested compensatory damages.
“DCF’s actions are discriminatory and unconstitutional,” the documents said.
The lawsuit names 11 DCF staff members, including Linda Spears, the department’s commissioner. The lawsuit also names Kate Walsh, the Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, because of her “ultimate responsibility for the policies, procedures, and official decisions of DCF.”
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