A lesbian couple in Texas is taking the battle against faith-based adoption and foster care agencies to the federal level, asking a court to compel two government agencies to require the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and its subchapters to place children in the homes of same-sex couples.
After failed attempts “to get pregnant through reproductive technology,” Fatma Marouf and Brin Esplin applied with Catholic Charities of Fort Worth to foster a refugee child, according to the lawsuit filed Feb. 20. The agency denied the couple’s application, saying its clients “must mirror the holy family.” The legally married couple, both university professors, claim they were “shocked” to learn that the agency operated by the Catholic Church—a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage—did not place foster children in the homes of same-sex couples.
The lawsuit, Marouf v. Azar, claims the federal government discriminated against the couple for their “sexual orientation, sex, and the same-sex character of their marriage.” It names the USCCB, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), and the ORR’s parent agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as defendants. The USCCB passes ORR grant funds to Catholic Charities, which acts as a government contractor in its work caring for and finding homes for refugee children.
University of Notre Dame law professor Gerard Bradley told me such lawsuits became inevitable after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015.
“And, as we can easily see from these lawsuits, once same-sex marriage was itself legally normalized, its proponents would then make total acceptance of it essential to anyone who works for the government, or who contracts with the government, or who receives government money, or who … just wants to operate in the public marketplace,” he said.
The Obergefell v. Hodges decision stopped short of declaring gays and lesbians a protected class of citizens, said Chelsey Youman, an attorney with the religious liberty law firm First Liberty. But discrimination lawsuits increasingly make that claim and use it against anyone who disagrees. The USCCB is one of only two organizations funded by the ORR that help refugee children, making it a prime target for gay rights activists.
“If they are the only ones in this space, all the more reason to be protected,” Youman said. “Let them do their good work.”
The federal lawsuit does not directly threaten state laws, including one in Texas, that shield religious adoption and foster care agencies from lawsuits for basing operations on their Biblical convictions. —B.P.