Family Law

Same-sex couple sues federally funded refugee adoption agency for discrimination

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A law professor and her wife have sued the federal government, alleging that a federally funded child services agency refused to consider placing a child with them because they don’t “mirror the Holy Family.”

CNN and NBC have stories.

Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin of Texas wanted to foster a refugee child, particularly because Marouf is an immigration law professor who runs the Immigrant Rights Clinic at Texas A&M University. But the only organization they know of in the region that places refugee foster children is Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, a religious organization that does the work under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It said they were not eligible to be considered as foster parents because they’re a same-sex couple.

Although the government may contract with faith-based organizations for work like this, the lawsuit says, 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, told CNN. “Using religion as an excuse, federal taxpayer dollars are being used to discriminate.”

Esplin and Marouf’s lawsuit alleges that the HHS and its refugee agency, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, are unlawfully funding an agency that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, denying children the chance to be placed in eligible homes. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made no secret of its intention to provide services consistent with Catholic teachings—which they expressly say includes opposition to same-sex marriage. The federal government did not prohibit religiously motivated discrimination when awarding the money to the conference, the lawsuit says, despite federal rules forbidding grantees from discriminating.

The lawsuit notes that the couple originally tried to resolve the dispute with a complaint directly to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, but has not received a response since last May.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond to NBC’s requests for comment, and a spokesperson for HHS said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit notes that around the same time that Catholic Charities of Fort Worth rejected Marouf and Esplin’s application, Marouf gave the agency a well-received “Know Your Rights” talk in her professional capacity as an immigration law professor. In fact, it was Marouf’s work that made her aware that the agency had unaccompanied refugee children who needed homes, NBC says.

“Refugee children have been through enough trauma to last a lifetime,” Marouf told CNN. “In discriminating against us, the agency put their religious views of LGBT people above what is best for the kids in their care.”

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