Bryn Esplin, left, and her wife, Fatma Marouf, are suing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after being rejected as possible foster parents for refugee children. Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Jamie Gliksberg, right, and other attorneys with Lambda Legal and Hogan Lovells are working on the case. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

A Fort Worth couple announced today (Tuesday, Feb. 20) that they have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after being denied the opportunity to event apply to serve as foster parents for refugee children because they are a same-sex couple.

Lambda Legal filed the case this morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin, who have been married since May 2015. Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Kenneth D. Upton, explained that the lawsuit is based on the fact that USCCB is illegally discriminating against same-sex couples — and possibly others that do not “mirror the Holy family” as defined by the Catholic Church — while using federal funds and administering a federal program.

“Our government should not be favoring certain religious beliefs over others — to the tune of millions of dollars — and turning people away from government services based on their failure to conform to the dictates of a particular religious belief,” Upton said in a written statement released at the Tuesday morning press conference in Fort Worth. “This type of government-funded discrimination is not just coercive, it’s heartbreaking to Fatma and Bryn and other loving couples denied their dream of bringing a child into their home, and it hurts children in federal foster care programs [who are] denied loving families. USCCB’s sole criterion for placing the children in its care should be the best interests of the children.”

Marouf and Esplin both teach at Texas A&M University, where Marouf is a professor of law and director of Texas A&M’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, and Esplin is an assistant professor of bioethics at the A&M College of Medicine. The first became interested in fostering and adopting a refugee child after administrators at the Fort Worth-based USCCB affiliate, familiar with her work at the Immigrant Rights Clinic, invited Marouf to visit and learn more about their work with refugee children.

Read more in the Friday, Feb, 23 issue of Dallas Voice.

— Tammye Nash