Gay rights and child welfare are at stake in a Fort Worth-based lawsuit, and recent comments by the presiding judge might indicate that Bible-thumping bigots need to slow their roll.
U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta “acknowledged the blatant and severe discrimination that our clients suffered,” said Jamie Gliksberg, an attorney representing a married same-sex Fort Worth couple who were denied the right to foster a child.
The would-be foster parents – Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin – were denied the right after Catholic Charities of Fort Worth determined the couple did not “mirror the holy family,” meaning Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (“A Poor Reflection,” Mar 21).
In February, the couple filed a lawsuit accusing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops of violating the Establishment, Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. HHS pays the bishops group millions of dollars each year to assist with federal programs to place unaccompanied refugee minors and alien children with foster parents. Mehta sits on the bench in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and heard oral arguments regarding the federal government’s motion to dismiss Marouf v. Azar, referring to Alex Azar, a Trump appointee serving as secretary of HHS.
The discrimination allowed by the federal government against same-sex couples and potential foster parents makes the country seem as if it’s going backward. The civil rights protests of the 1960s are a half-century old, and we’re still arguing whether same-sex couples are worthy of being treated like human beings?
Feds and Catholic officials appear to be hiding their bigotry under MAGA hats and sacred teachings. The National LGBT Bar Association recently joined the lawsuit as an organizational plaintiff, and the Massachusetts-based Family Equality Council issued a press release praising the legal action taken by the two Texas women.
Gliksberg works with Lambda Legal, a national nonprofit committed to achieving civil rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and people living with HIV. Lambda attorneys see a sleight-of-hand trick in the government’s motion to deny Marouf and Esplin their day in court.
HHS is “trying to have it both ways, by funding [the bishops group] to perform a federal child welfare program using taxpayer dollars” despite the group’s declaration in the grant that it would perform such services “only in a way that discriminates based on the organization’s own religious beliefs,” Gliksberg said. Then the bishops group is saying that HHS can’t be held responsible for that discrimination when it occurred, she said.
“We hope the court will see through the smoke and mirrors,” she told us.
Mehta might. He did not rule on the motion in the latest court action but ordered the parties to spend a couple of weeks conferring on possible solutions and then report back to him. That doesn’t sound too good for the defendants, but Robert Tuttle, a professor of law and religion at George Washington Law School, told us there is “nothing in the Code of Federal Regulations that prohibits the recipients of federal grants from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation in the conduct of their program.”
If the parties don’t reach agreement, and they hadn’t at press time, Mehta will rule on the motion to dismiss. No one knows, though, when he will make that ruling, Gliksberg said. If the lawsuit is tossed, the women will appeal, the attorney said. Because of factors that include gay rights, interpretation of national Constitutional law, and decisions regarding child welfare, the case “is being widely cited and watched,” Gliksberg said.
That’s a shame. Not that the case is being scrutinized. But that we as a nation haven’t evolved more than this.