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Lesbian Couple Sues After Foster-Parent Application Is Denied

A lesbian couple claims in court that several government agencies refused to allow them to adopt a refugee child through a federally funded adoption agency because of their same-sex relationship.

FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) - A lesbian couple claims in court that several government agencies refused to allow them to adopt a refugee child through a federally funded adoption agency because of their same-sex relationship.

In a federal complaint filed in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Fatma Marouf And Bryne Esplin, both Texas A&M University professors, say they turned to adoption after being unable to succeed with alternative pregnancy methods.

They go on to say they decided to try to adopt a refugee child in February 2017 after learning that as many as 300,000 children worldwide are classified as unaccompanied refugees in need of family support.

Esplin and Marouf, who is the director of Texas A&M’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, say they reached out to Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, a faith-based charity that specializes in placing refugee children, and  after a series of emails, the agency invited the couple to participate in a phone interview.

According to the complaint, It was during that interview that a Catholic Charities employee told the couple by that they only adopt to families that “mirror the holy family.”

Marouf says she asked if the couple's status as a same-sex couple would be a problem and was told it would disqualify them.

The couple says they then discovered the charity’s work was funded by federal grants offered by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office Of Refugee Resettlement despite the fact  federal law specifically prohibits funding to organizations that discriminate based on an individual's sexual orientation.

In their complaint, which was filed by LGBTQ legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, the couple claims their Fifth Amendment rights were violated as the federal government  was “denying equal protection of the laws” by spending money on groups that discriminated against them.

The named defendants include several federal entities and the Conference of Catholic Bishops, which receives funding from the Department of Health and Human Services to provide adoption and other services through Catholic Charities.

“There is no valid basis for the government to prefer different-sex couples over same-sex couples when considering or approving would-be foster or adoptive parents,” the complaint says. “The scientific community has reached consensus that children reared by lesbian or gay parents are just as likely to be well-adjusted as children of heterosexual parents.”

The complaint then lists the numerous medical organizations which have offered evidence and support for same-sex parenting including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and the Child Welfare League of America.

“By enabling federal taxpayer-funded child welfare services, for children in federal care and custody, to be performed in reliance on such doctrine, Federal Defendants are depriving children of the opportunity to be placed in eligible homes that serve their best interests,” the complaint says.

Esplin and Marouf are seeking injunctive relief barring federal funding to Catholic Charities and an order compelling the charity to offer its services to the couple.

In a joint statement with the Diocese of Fort Worth, the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops said the church’s foster care program “works within parameters of the Catholic Church’s teachings” and complies with federal regulations related to funding received from defendant the Department of Health and Human Services, through its Office of Refugee Resettlement.

“Catholic Charities of Fort Worth’s International Foster Care program is an outreach that is faithful to the Church's mission to care for the poor and vulnerable,” said Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson. “This mission is entrusted to the Church by Christ.”

“Finding foster parents – and other resources – for refugee children is difficult work,” Bishop Olson said. “Catholic Charities are often the lead agent in this work.  It would be tragic if Catholic Charities were not able to provide this help, in accordance with the Gospel values and family assistance that is so essential to these children who are vulnerable to being mistreated as meaningless in society."

Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, said that while the current case relates to federal programs, as a result of the enactment of House Bill 3859 by the Texas Legislature in June 2017, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services has updated its referral processes to ensure that all couples seeking to foster in Texas can easily find a regional agency to serve them.

Representatives of the government defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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