Two Fort Worth women are suing the federal government and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after being denied the opportunity to serve as foster parents to an unaccompanied refugee child. Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin say that Catholic Charities Fort Worth, the only organization in Texas that partners with the federal government to place unaccompanied refugees, told them to not bother applying because they are a same-sex couple.
"At the first interview, to be turned away from even applying because we did not 'mirror the holy family,' which we clarified meant that we were a same-sex couple, was not only deeply disappointing to us, but it denies children the opportunity to have a loving home," Esplin said Tuesday.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a partnership with the federal Department of Health and Human Services, oversees the Catholic Charities program. Marouf and Esplin, along with their counsel at Lambda Legal, say the program can't turn them down because it takes federal money.
In a joint statement, the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth did not address Marouf and Esplin's allegations but said they were doing the best they could to help refugee children in accordance with biblical values.
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"Finding foster parents — and other resources — for refugee children is difficult work," said Bishop Michael Olson of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. "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."
Marouf says her family was ready to provide such help before being shut out from doing so.
"Refugee children have been through enough trauma to last a lifetime," she said. "They need love, stability and support, which we have in abundance."
A new Texas law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott last year protects adoption agencies in the state from lawsuits if they discriminate because of "sincerely held religious beliefs." According to Marouf and Esplin's suit, the law doesn't apply in their case because foster care for refugee children is arranged through federal programs with federal funds.