Lawmakers in Virginia are pushing through a bill that will allow religious institutions contracting with the state to turn away prospective foster and adoptive parents on grounds of their sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.
The state House voted 71-28 to pass the legislation Friday. Earlier in the day, a Senate committee endorsed its version of the Republican-backed measure on an 8-7 party-line vote. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected to sign the bill.
The measure, sponsored by Delegate Todd Gilbert and Senator Jeffrey McWaters, both Republicans, allows religious agencies to discriminate based on their ethos and is being billed as a measure to protect religious freedoms. Others have called out the legislation as, simply, anti-gay discrimination.
“I applaud my colleagues for embracing the continued protection of religious liberties in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Gilbert said in a statement. “When signed into law by Governor McDonnell, this measure will chisel into law the principle that people of faith can adhere to their convictions, without fear of reprisal from those who would discriminate against their religious beliefs regarding how we should raise our children.”
Democratic Senator Mark R. Herring said that the bill would allow any agency to discriminate against prospective foster or adoptive gay parents.
“What this bill is designed to do is allow any agency to discriminate based on sexual orientation,” Herring said during the committee hearing.
A vote in the state Senate is expected in the coming days. The legislation looks set to pass and as noted above will be signed by Governor McDonnell.
Virginia only allows married couples to jointly adopt, meaning that there is an existing discriminatory aspect to adoption rules given that same-sex couples cannot marry in the state.
This push to change the law came about after the Virginia Board of Social Services decided to abandon its anti-discrimination rules based on personal characteristics including race and sexual orientation in favor of a blanket anti-discrimination policy.
Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) then introduced legislation designed to fill that gap. His legislation would have served to 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. However, that was rejected in committee.
As mentioned above, Republican lawmakers then pushed legislation to create a “conscious clause” so that religious organizations can continue to deny placement based on their beliefs and still receive state funds. Specifically, the legislation sanctions the right of state-funded agencies to refuse to approve adoptions and foster care placement to a gay individual or others, based on religious or moral factors. The bill also protects said facilities from damage claims by the persons they discriminate against.
Leslie Cooper of the American Civil Liberties Union has reportedly condemned the bill, saying: “It’s a license for child welfare agencies to make decisions based on their own religious beliefs rather than the child’s needs.”