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Texas Lesbian Couple Sues Over Foster-Care Denial: “You Don’t Mirror the Holy Family”

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TAMU profs file complaint against federal agency, Catholic group.  

From staff reports 

Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday, Feb. 20 on behalf of a Texas lesbian couple who were denied the opportunity to serve as foster parents for refugee children because, they were told, they did not “mirror the Holy Family.”

The suit was filed on behalf of Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin, a married same-sex couple who both teach at Texas A&M University, against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

HHS funds the program that turned away Marouf and Esplin exclusively with taxpayer money. HHS funded USCCB to perform federal child welfare services through its affiliates even though the conference made clear that it would use the funds to deny such services to members of the public based on religious beliefs.

“Being denied the opportunity to foster a child because we don’t ‘mirror the Holy Family’ — clearly code for being a same-sex couple — was hurtful and insulting to us,” Esplin said. “More than that, though, insisting on such a narrow, religious view of what a family must look like deprives these children of a nurturing, supportive home.”

“Refugee children have been through enough trauma to last a lifetime,” Marouf said. “They need love, stability, and support, which Bryn and I have in abundance. But in discriminating against us, the agency put their religious views of LGBT people above what is best for the kids in their care.”

Kenneth D. Upton, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, said the federal government was on notice when it funded USCCB that the organization refuses to profit services to same-sex couples at taxpayer expense.

“Our government should not be favoring certain religious beliefs over others—to the tune of millions of dollars—and turning people away from government services based on their failure to conform to the dictates of a particular religious belief,” Upton said. “This type of government-funded discrimination is not just coercive—it’s heartbreaking to Fatma and Bryn, and other loving couples denied their dream of bringing a child into their home, and hurts children in federal foster care programs denied loving families. USCCB’s sole criterion for placing the children in its care should be the best interests of the children.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claims HHS and USCCB are violating the Establishment, Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S Constitution by allowing USCCB to impose a religious test governing the provision of federal child welfare services.

USCCB, which receives millions of dollars in grant funding from HHS through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to assist with the federal government’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) Program and the Unaccompanied Alien Child (“UC”) Program, is responsible for identifying eligible children in need of services, and providing foster care services for these children, including placement in homes that serve their best interests.

Marouf and Esplin have been married for nearly three years. Fatma is a Professor of Law and Director of Texas A&M’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, and Bryn is an Assistant Professor of Bioethics at Texas A&M College of Medicine. They have long wanted to have children, and, after administrators at a Fort Worth-based USCCB affiliate invited Fatma to visit and learn about the affiliate’s work with unaccompanied refugee children, decided they wanted to become foster parents for a refugee child and asked to start the licensing process.

However, when in their first interview they revealed that they were a married same-sex couple, the affiliate’s Director of International Foster Care informed them that they would not be permitted to apply to be foster parents because their family structure did not “mirror the Holy Family.” And, when Fatma asked about LGBTQ refugee children, the Director stated that none of the roughly 700 unaccompanied refugee children in their care were LGBTQ. Later that same day, Fatma emailed ORR to say that the USCCB affiliate had discriminated against her and her same-sex spouse by refusing to allow her to apply to foster a refugee child. ORR responded two months later to ask for the names of the officials with whom they met, but Fatma and Bryn have heard nothing since.

The lawsuit is Marouf v. Azar. Read a copy of the complaint here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/marouf_dc_20180220_complaint

Read more about the clients and the lawsuit: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/marouf-v-azar

 

 

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John Wright

John Wright is the editor of OutSmart magazine. He has spent two decades in the mainstream and LGBTQ media. Most recently, he served as senior editor of Dallas Voice, and covered LGBTQ issues in the state Legislature for The Texas Observer. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Wright earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He resides in the EaDo area of Houston, where he is currently remodeling a 1930s row house.
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