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Couple Takes on Trump Admin in Foster Care Discrimination Suit

Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin
From left: Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin

Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin sued after turned away by a Catholic foster care agency that receives federal funds because they didn't "mirror the Holy Family." 

A federal court heard oral arguments today on whether to dismiss a lawsuit from a married same-sex couple who were denied the opportunity to even apply to become foster parents to a refugee child.

Texas couple Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin, both college professors, were turned away by a Catholic social services agency that receives federal funds; the reason given was that they did not "mirror the Holy Family." Represented by Lambda Legal, they filed suit in February against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Department of Health and Human Services, the latter being part of the federal government and, therefore, the Trump administration.

HHS funds a program handled by USCCB affiliates to provide federal child welfare services, including refugee resettlement, even though the Catholic group has made clear it would discriminate against applicants who offended its religious beliefs. HHS and the bishops' conference have sought dismissal of the suit. The case is being heard in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

"Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin deserve the right and opportunity to tell their story in court," Lambda Legal staff attorney Jamie Gliksberg said in a press release. "HHS here is trying to have it both ways, by funding an organization -- USCCB -- to perform a federal child welfare program using taxpayer dollars despite USCCB's insistence in the grant that it would perform such services only in a way that discriminates based on the organization's own religious beliefs, and then to claim HHS can't be held responsible for that discrimination when it occurred. We hope the court will see through the smoke and mirrors."

When Marouf and Esplin sought to become foster parents through the USCCB affiliate, they encountered not only discrimination but denial, according to their suit. After being told they were ineligible because they did not "mirror the Holy Family," they asked about LGBT refugee children in the agency's care. A staff member told them there were none.

"The federal government was on notice when it funded USCCB that this organization refuses to provide services to same-sex spouses at taxpayers' expense," Gliksberg added in the release. "HHS knew it and funded USCCB anyway. There should be only one criterion for placing foster children -- what is in the best interests of the child. Placing children with stable, loving homes such as Fatma and Bryn's should be the goal, but instead HHS authorized USCCB to use discriminatory criteria bearing no relationship to child welfare, all at the cost of children in federal care."

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