The Virginia state Senate on Tuesday gave final approval to a bill that enshrines a “conscience clause” for religious organizations to discriminate against prospective adoptive parents based on their personal characteristics, including their sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Senate approved the measure 22-18.
Two Democrats, Senators Charles J. Colgan and Phillip P. Puckett, helped all 20 Republicans get the measure through the chamber.
The measure now heads to the desk of Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who has said he supports the legislation.
Speaking earlier on the Senate floor, Democratic Senator Adam P. Ebbin, the chamber’s first openly gay member, called the measure “morally wrong.”
The measure, sponsored by Delegate Todd Gilbert and Senator Jeffrey McWaters, both Republicans, affirms that religious agencies can discriminate based on their ethos and is being billed as a measure to protect religious freedoms. Others have called out the legislation as anti-gay discrimination.
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.
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.”