A Catholic couple in Massachusetts is suing the state after being rejected as foster parents because of their beliefs about marriage, sexuality and gender.

Mike and Kitty Burke explored becoming foster parents through the Massachusetts Department of Child and Families’ foster care program, which included months of training, home visits and extensive interviews, hoping to eventually adopt children.

“After years of heartbreak, we were on the verge of finally becoming parents. We were absolutely devastated to learn that Massachusetts would rather children sleep in the hallways of hospitals than let us welcome children in need into our home,” the Burkes said in a press release from Becket Law, formerly the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is backing the case.

DCF does not have enough foster homes or facilities to meet the needs of the children in its care, leaving over 1,500 children without a family, including some who are housed in hospitals.

Mike Burke is a former Marine who served in Iraq. Kitty Burke is a former paraprofessional for special needs kids. The couple runs a business together and performs music for Mass. They married in 2018 and wanted to start a family but are unable to have children due to infertility.

The lawsuit filed in federal court this week says the Burkes experienced hostility toward their Catholic beliefs throughout the application process for a foster care license.

“During the home interviews, the Burkes were troubled that much of the questioning centered around their views on sexuality and their response if a child were, in the future, to struggle with gender dysphoria or to identify as gay or lesbian,” according to the 37-page lawsuit. The couple estimates a third of the time in the interviews was spent on those types of questions.

The Burkes say they emphasized that they would love and accept their child, no matter his or her future sexual orientation or struggles with gender identity.

“When asked how they’d feel if their child identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or any other sexuality, Kitty shared, ‘There’s nothing wrong with it, I’m going to love you the same, but I believe you would need to live a chaste life.’ Mike agreed that ‘there’s nothing wrong with it.’ He said that ‘he’d want to have a conversation with a child about this’ at an appropriate time and reiterated that ‘there would not be a change’ in how the Burkes would treat or love the child,” the lawsuit says.

As faithful Catholics, the Burkes believe that children should be loved and supported, and they would never reject a child placed in their home, the lawsuit says. 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.”

DCF administrators said the couple’s answers in interviews about sexuality and gender barred them from becoming licensed foster parents. One licensing official wrote, the Burkes are “lovely people” but “their faith is not supportive and neither are they.”

An adoption assessment found that while the Burkes have many strengths, including their own traumatic experiences and mental health history that would help them connect to children in a meaningful way, their views on gender identity caused “apprehension” about them becoming foster parents.

“The couple expressed that they are not open to gender-affirming care and believe that partnership outside of heterosexual marriage is a sin. They are heavily involved in their Catholic Church and cite their religious views as their primary reason for seeing LGBTQIA++ individuals in this way,” the report says.

According to Becket, the denial of a foster care license was discriminatory and unconstitutional, noting Massachusetts law protects the religious liberty of foster parents.

“It takes the heroic effort of parents like Mike and Kitty to provide vulnerable children with loving homes through foster care,” Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a press release. “Massachusetts’ actions leave the Burkes, and families of other faiths, out in the cold. How can they explain this to children waiting for a home?”

The state’s decision means families with similar religious beliefs on human sexuality will be banned from fostering or adopting children through the Massachusetts child welfare system, according to the lawsuit. The rule would extend to many Muslims, Jews, Protestant Christians and other groups who have similar religious teachings.

The lawsuit names Kate Walsh, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, as well as 11 DCF administrators, supervisors and specialists.