Lesbian Couple Denied Refugee Child Adoption by Federally Funded Agency
Texas residents Fatma Marouf and her wife Bryn Esplin have sued the federal government, alleging that a federally funded child services agency refused to consider placing a child with them due to their sexual orientation. The reason for the denial, according to the filing, was because they don’t “mirror the Holy Family.” Marouf is an immigration law professor who is responsible for running the Immigrant Rights Clinic at Texas A&M University.
Marouf and Esplin wanted to foster a refugee child, but the only adoption agency they were aware of in the region that places refugee foster children is Catholic Charities of Fort Worth. The religious organization was established under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and denied the couple the ability to foster a child, stating they were not eligible because they’re a same-sex couple. According to the couple’s lawsuit, although the government may contract with religious organizations, those organizations may not use federal funds for religious purposes.
“Our clients should be able to walk into any agency and be treated equally,” Jamie Gliksberg of Lambda Legal, who represents the couple, said. “Using religion as an excuse, federal taxpayer dollars are being used to discriminate.” The attorney called the discrimination-based rejection “infuriating.”
“HHS is funding social services using federal taxpayer dollars while all along knowing that USCCB refuses, on religious grounds, to provide these services to same-sex couples,” she said. “What is infuriating is federal taxpayer dollars being used for discrimination and denying equal rights, which is completely unconstitutional.”
The filing claims HHS and its refugee agency, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, are unlawfully funding an organization that routinely discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, denying children the chance to be placed in eligible homes. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops openly follows Catholic teachings, which representatives have indicated includes opposition to same-sex marriage. The federal government did not prohibit religiously motivated discrimination when awarding its funding, the lawsuit says, despite federal rules forbidding grantees from discriminating.
While the couple originally tried to resolve the dispute with a complaint directly to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, they have not received a response since last summer. After several months went by with no response, they finally decided to pursue legal action. They felt they had no choice.
“If they had just fixed it right away, it wouldn’t have had to be litigated,” Marouf said. At the time they were officially rejected, Marouf gave the agency a well-received “Know Your Rights” speech in her professional capacity as an immigration law professor.
“Refugee children have been through enough trauma to last a lifetime,” she explained. “In discriminating against us, the agency put their religious views of LGBT people above what is best for the kids in their care.”
Of the rejection letter, the law professor said, “We were shocked. We are both highly educated, stable. We have a lot of love to give.”
The defendants’ actions, Gliksberg said, are “depriving children of loving and supportive” homes. She added, “This administration has had that same goal of disguising its discrimination and calling it religious freedom. That right doesn’t come at the expense of other people’s constitutional rights.”