Lesbian couple fights back when Catholic adoption agency bars them from fostering migrant kids

Bryn Esplin and Fatma Marouf. Screen capture by Lambda Legal

A federally-funded Texas adoption agency is stubbornly refusing to allow a lesbian couple to become foster parents and using religious beliefs to support their narrow-minded decision.

Catholic Charities, the agency involved, told Bryn Esplin and Fatma Malouf that because they are a married lesbian couple, they don’t “mirror the holy family,” and therefore would not be allowed to foster migrant children currently being detained by the U.S. government, writes David Badash, for The New Civil Rights Movement.

So the women questioned the agency, noting that surely some of the 700 kids under its care are LGBT.

But nope, Malouf and Esplin were told, “there are no LGBT children in our care,” said Jamie Gliksberg, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, a non-profit dedicated to helping that is representing the couple, in an interview with The Daily Beast.

It’s not statistically possible, and it “means that the LGBT kids in the program are being discriminated against on a daily basis,” she said.

And research funded by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families shows that nearly one in five kids in foster care are LGBT. The research also found that as compared to straight and cisgender kids in foster care, LGBT youth are likelier to be homeless or wind up in the hospital. Or experience the wrong end of the criminal justice system. Alex Azar, Health and Human Services Secretary is named in the lawsuit. The HHS has proposed eliminating the collection of this data.

Catholic Charities of Fort Worth and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) didn’t respond to The Daily Beast’s request for information. But there’s a particularly telling quote on the USCCB’S website. It notes that while “placing a child in the care of two men or two women may be well-intentioned, it ultimately deprives the child of either a mother or a father.”

I wonder if folks at the USCCB were worried about this when it was discovered that more than 300 priests had been sexually abusing children for decades? And how is keeping kids in what basically amounts to an orphanage better than barring them from being adopted by same-sex parents?

And Marouf and Esplin wanted to help these traumatized kids.

“We were really open in terms of taking in a sibling set, in terms of age of the child — we didn’t really have any specific thing we were looking for,” Marouf said. “We just felt like we could provide a good home, and there were hundreds of kids needing it in this area, so it just seemed like something we could do.”

Fortunately, the couple has just won the first round against HHS and the USCCB, and they are hopeful that this will remove bureaucratic barriers that prevent full equality for LGBT families and for kids who need foster care.

And Marouf adds that though this case is about sexual orientation, it raises additional questions.

“Would we really allow the government to contract with an organization, say, that refuses to place children with African-American couples or Hispanic couples?” she asked. “I think that most people would think that shouldn’t be allowed.”

Esplin and Marouf, who met five years ago, married after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. After moving to Fort Worth Texas, the couple decided it was time to start a family.

They tried assisted reproductive technology at first, but when that didn’t work the couple looked into the idea of fostering when Marouf, who’s the director of the immigrant-rights clinic at Texas A&M’s law school found out about the HHS-funded Catholic charities program.

“They showed us where the kids were living in their offices and it just looked very sad,” Marouf said. “I thought this could be a good opportunity for us to foster a child, and it fit really well, it seemed, with my interests in immigration and refugee law, and my experience…I’m familiar with the culture and religion of some of those places, and we just thought it would be a good fit for us.”

But the local USCCB apparently had other ideas and of course, that meant bad news for Esplin and Marouf. During a telephone meeting and Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, the local chapter of the USCCB that helps place migrant children in homes pivoted.

“We were told we didn’t qualify because we didn’t mirror the Holy Family,” Marouf told The Daily Beast.

And sadly, this type of discrimination may become more common, thanks to president Donald Trump’s administration, which has granted religious organizations and people of faith more power to discriminate, especially in regards to LGBT people. The HHS, under Roger Severino, is working on a plan that rescinds Obama-era regulations that banned this kind of discrimination by adoption agencies.

This is why it’s a good thing that we have people like Esplin and Marouf. Because they are paving a way that enhances civil rights — for LGBT people and for kids who desperately need homes, love, and support.

Featured photo courtesy of Lambda Legal