Should the state continue to fund adoption and foster care agencies that, based on their religion, refuse to place children with same-sex couples even when those couples fulfill all other criteria for providing a viable home?
This is the question that lawmakers in Virginia are now considering after new legislation was recently introduced by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) that would bar Virginia from contracting with or funding agencies that discriminate against eligible prospective foster or adoptive families solely on the basis of personal characteristics including race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, family status, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Two other lawmakers have since introduced legislation that would allow a “conscious clause” so that private organizations can continue to deny placement based on their beliefs and still receive funds.
“One major issue is whether charities that receive tax dollars should be able to discriminate,” Ebbin said Friday. “Adoption is a public act that goes through state courts, and no government agent should engage in discrimination.”
Sen. Jeffrey McWaters and Del. Todd Gilbert have introduced so-called “conscience clause” bills that would reinforce the Department of Social Services regulations and protect private, faith-based child-placement agencies.
The measures would allow private organizations to deny placement if doing so would go against their religious beliefs — including opposition to homosexuality. The measures also would bar the Department of Social Services from denying or revoking a placement agency’s license solely on the grounds that it has refused to allow adoptions or foster placement based on sexual orientation, and would protect agencies from legal action stemming from such decisions.
“We just want to ensure that people can continue to abide by their religious beliefs and continue to provide services consistent with those beliefs,” said Gilbert, R-Woodstock, who said he introduced the legislation on behalf of the Virginia Family Foundation, a conservative Christian group, to protect faith-based agencies.
Ebbin has already said that he believes his legislation will face a tough fight but he believes that it would address a fundamental concern that children should not be denied loving homes based on the sexual orientation of their parents.
This comes as The Virginia Board of Social Services voted December 14, 2011, to make effective on May 1, 2012, rules that will only ban discrimination in adoption services and youth care based on race, national origin and ethnicity. State equality groups and the state’s chapter of the ACLU have decried this roll-back from previous and more inclusive provisions, saying that it is tantamount to state sanctioned discrimination because it refuses to take the necessary step of protecting a wide number of at-risk youth.
It is estimated that there are more than 1,500 children awaiting adoption in the state.
This is a discussion that is not by any means unique to Virginia. Catholic Charities in Illinois, for instance, closed their doors rather than comply with state anti-discrimination laws. They sued trying to find legal remedy but were told that they had no entitlement to state money and therefore were contractually obliged to abide by state rules per gay-inclusive nondiscrimination. Read more on that here.