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Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on behalf of a couple who were denied the opportunity even to apply to serve as foster parents for refugee children by a USCCB affiliate because, they were told, they did not “mirror the Holy Family.”

Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin have been married for nearly three years. They both teach at Texas A&M University; Fatma is a Professor of Law and Director of Texas A&M’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, and Bryn is an Assistant Professor of Bioethics at Texas A&M College of Medicine.

Fatma and Bryn had long wanted to have children, and, after administrators at a Fort Worth-based USCCB affiliate invited Fatma to visit and learn about the affiliate’s work with unaccompanied refugee children, decided they wanted to become foster parents for a refugee child and asked to start the licensing process.

However, when in their first interview they revealed that they were a married same-sex couple, the affiliate’s Director of International Foster Care informed them that they would not be permitted to apply to be foster parents because their family structure did not “mirror the Holy Family.” And, when Fatma asked about LGBT refugee children, the Director stated that none of the roughly 700 unaccompanied refugee children in their care were LGBT.

Later that same day, Fatma emailed ORR to say that the USCCB affiliate had discriminated against her and her same-sex spouse by refusing to allow her to apply to foster a refugee child.

ORR responded two months later to ask for the names of the officials with whom they met, but Fatma and Bryn have heard nothing since.