AUSTIN, Texas — Two lesbian women have sued the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Refugee Resettlement after a local Catholic charity allegedly disallowed them from serving as foster parents to a refugee child because the organization only works with homes that “mirror the holy family.”
Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin “wed” each other in 2015 and moved to Texas a year later. One of the women is from a Muslim background and the other had a Mormon upbringing.
Marouf, who works as a law professor at Texas A&M University and also serves as the director of its Immigrant Rights Clinic, became familiar with Catholic Charities Fort Worth (CCFW) through her efforts. She soon received an invitation to tour the facility so she could learn more about the organization’s work to help unaccompanied refugee children.
Following the tour, Marouf and Esplin became interested in fostering a child themselves. They emailed CCFW to inquire about the steps they would need to take to move forward, and a representative allegedly set up an interview between the two and Donna Springer, the chair of the organization’s board of directors.
“During the call, it became clear to CCFW that Fatma and Bryn are same-sex spouses. Springer then told Fatma and Bryn that foster parents must ‘mirror the holy family,'” their legal complaint reads. “To clarify whether their relationship would be an issue, Fatma explicitly stated that she and Bryn are a same-sex couple. Springer responded that they did not ‘qualify’ to foster a child.”
The women state that they then asked about homosexual refugee children, and Springer replied that none of the children in their care identify as such.
Therefore, in February 2017, Marouf emailed the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to complain that the Catholic group had discriminated against her and her partner. The department replied months later and asked for the name of the person who allegedly told the women that the organization would only place children in homes that “mirror the holy family.”
Because no further action has been taken, Marouf and Esplin have now filed suit.
“By working to ensure that none of the children for which they are responsible are placed in homes of same-sex spouses based on USCCB’s (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’) religious beliefs, USCCB and its sub-grantees not only discriminate against same-sex spouses, but also effectively erase the non-Catholic identities and beliefs of many of the unaccompanied refugee children for which they are responsible,” the lawsuit, filed by Lambda legal, states.
“Federal Defendants’ failure to remedy the discrimination by USCCB and its sub-grantee in denying Fatma and Bryn the opportunity to foster a child under the URM Program or the UC Program based on impermissible religious considerations, of which they are on notice, compounds their constitutional violation,” it reads.
According to the Dallas Morning News, CCFW denies that the women ever spoke to Springer, as well as the claim that they were told that none of the refugee children identify as homosexual.
“We do not screen or otherwise ask the children we serve to self-identify if they are LGBT,” Katelin Cortney, the communications director for CCFW, told the outlet. “We train our foster families to accept children from all cultures and walks of life so they can be as prepared as possible to welcome someone new into their home.”
The Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops also remarked in a statement that Catholic foster programs work “within [the] parameters of the Catholic Church’s teachings” and in compliance with federal regulations as they relate to receiving government funding.
Marouf and Esplin are seeking an injunction to force the Catholic organization to work with them to foster a refugee child. They also want the court to issue an injunction to stop the federal government “from enabling, sanctioning, ratifying, or failing to implement adequate safeguards against the use of religious or other criteria to exclude foster or adoptive parent applicants based on their sexual orientation or sex or the same-sex character of their marriage…”
The late pastor and author A.W. Tozer once exhorted, “There is no Christian victory or blessing if we refuse to turn away from the things that God hates. … Even if it is accepted in the whole social class of which you are a part, turn away from it. Even if there is something that has come to be accepted by our generation, turn away from it if it is wrong and an offense to our holy and righteous Savior.”
“Following Christ is serious business,” he declared. “Let us quit being casual about Heaven and Hell and the judgment to come!”