GREENVILLE COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – A same-sex couple in Greenville, who was rejected as foster parents, are at the center of a lawsuit filed Thursday against South Carolina and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The couple’s application was denied last month by Miracle Hill Ministries for failing to meet the agency’s religious criteria.

The couple — Eden Rogers and Brandy Welch — said they chose Miracle Hill because they are the largest fostering agency in the Upstate and LGBT advocates who filed the lawsuit argue since the agency receives taxpayer dollars, they should not be able to discriminate based on religion or sexual orientation.

“We applied to Miracle Hill Ministries and we were rejected immediately,” Rogers and Welch said. “Being denied right away felt like getting hit in the gut.”

On Thursday, on Rogers and Welch’s behalf, Lambda Legal, the ACLU and other advocates filed suit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the state of South Carolina for agreeing to a waiver requested by Gov. Henry McMaster that allows Miracle Hill to bar families that don’t adhere to its religious policy.

One item of that doctrine is that “marriage is the legal joining of one man and one woman.”

“There are children right now that are needing homes and they’re right out of the gate saying no,” Rogers and Welch told us.

South Carolina’s Department of Social Services has said that the state needs more than 1,300 foster homes.

But in a statement to 7News, the governor’s office said, “Governor 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.”

“What HSS and the State of South Carolina have done here is actually just flipped the paradigm of the child welfare system completely on its head and now have decided to prioritize the interest of providers above the interest of children,” Currey Cook, attorney with Lambda Legal, said. 

Miracle Hill President and CEO Reid Lehman released the following statement: 

Miracle Hill Ministries considers it a privilege to be one of the many foster care options in the Upstate of South Carolina. Our unique ability to partner with Christian parents who share our religious convictions has helped to greatly increase the pool of available foster homes. We are saddened that Ms. Rogers and Ms. Welch are unwilling to foster children if they cannot do so with Miracle Hill.   We would be honored to work with them if they shared our religious convictions in belief and practice, and we’ve encouraged them to volunteer in other ways with our ministry if they would like to do so.  Not only are there several foster agencies in the Upstate that will partner with any qualified individual or couple, but the state’s own Department of Social Services is available throughout the state to license anyone who meets their criteria and completes the licensing process.  We shared this information with Ms. Rogers and Ms. Welch.

Miracle Hill Ministries has always served foster children regardless of their faith or no faith at all. Additionally, our foster families comply with the law to respect the religious heritage and sexual orientation of children in their care. 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.  It is in the best interest of South Carolina’s children to allow as many unique foster care agencies as possible to increase the pool of available foster homes.