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Massachusetts couple denied foster care application over LGBTQ views, complaint says

Michael and Catherine Burke allege that the state’s Department of Children and Families discriminated against them for their Catholic viewpoints.
Michael and Catherine “Kitty” Burke.
Michael and Catherine “Kitty” Burke.Courtesy Burke Family

A Massachusetts couple filed a complaint this week against the state’s health secretary and multiple officials in the Department of Children and Families after their application to become foster parents was denied over their stance on LGBTQ people.

Michael and Catherine “Kitty” Burke began the monthslong application process with the DCF to foster or adopt a child in January 2022, according to the complaint. The process involved screenings to gauge the couple’s views on raising children from historically marginalized groups, including LGBTQ children. 

A social worker’s report attached to the complaint said the couple was asked how they would feel if a child in their care identified as LGBTQ or struggled with their gender identity. Kitty Burke responded by saying “let’s take the T out of it” and called gender-affirming care “chemical castration,” according to the report. She also said, “I’m going to love you the same,” but that the child “would need to live a chaste life.” Both Kitty and Michael Burke expressed hesitation around using a transgender or nonbinary person’s preferred pronouns, the social worker’s report noted. 

Michael Burke told the social worker he’d been to gay weddings and would “likely attend” his child’s wedding if they were LGBTQ, according to the report, and the couple said they wouldn’t kick a child out of their home for being LGBTQ or subject them to conversion therapy. 

Following the interview, the social worker issued an “approval with conditions, specifically around religion and LGBTQIA++ related issues.” Their application was later denied by the department’s Licensing Review Team, the complaint states. 

An official at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families said the department does not comment on pending litigation and said neither DCF nor the state’s Office of Health and Human Services had been served. The couple cites five violations of their First Amendment rights. 

One of the Burkes’ attorneys, Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket Law, a nonprofit legal group focused on religious liberty, told NBC News in a statement that the couple was “shocked” when their application was denied. 

“The Burkes were devastated to learn that they were denied a license to foster or adopt any child in the Massachusetts child welfare system. They’re asking the court to get rid of that discriminatory denial so that they will not be barred from fostering or adopting children in the future, in Massachusetts or elsewhere,” Windham said. 

Becket previously represented Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch in Fulton v. Philadelphia, a 2021 Supreme Court case that unanimously ruled in favor of a Catholic adoption agency’s right to refuse to place children with LGBTQ couples.