The Virginia State Board of Social Services voted 5 to 1 on Wednesday to allow licensed adoption agencies to refuse to approve adoptions or foster parents based solely on a would-be parent’s sexual orientation as well as six other characteristics.
The board took that action by rejecting for the second time this year an adoption related rule change first drafted in 2009 by state social services officials under former Governor Tim Kaine.
The proposed change called for banning discrimination in the state’s adoption and foster care system solely because of someone’s sexual orientation, religion, age, gender, disability, political beliefs, or family status.
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Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and the state’s controversial attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, who took office in 2010, opposed the changes. Cuccinelli told the board in a letter that it lacked the authority to add a sexual orientation non-discrimination provision in adoption rules because sexual orientation is not a protected status under state law.
“Politics once again trumped child welfare in Virginia,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “How many times can you let the 1,300 children in Virginia’s foster care system waiting for a loving, forever home down?”
Solmonese called on the Virginia Legislature to pass legislation “that makes the best interest of the child the sole basis for adoption, not whether someone is gay or whether two caring adults are able to be married.”
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Virginia law limits adoptions to married couples and single parents. Unlike some states, it does not prohibit gays from adopting. It prohibits adoptions by unmarried couples, gay or straight. The proposed change that the board rejected did not call for legalizing adoptions for unmarried couples.
The Family Equality Council, a national gay rights group, says as many as 6,700 adopted children are being raised in Virginia by same-sex couples, with one member of the couple having obtained the adoption.
Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, also condemned the board’s action, saying it would have an especially harmful impact on large numbers of LGBT youth awaiting adoption or placement in a foster home.
“Today, the State Board of Social Services told the people of the Commonwealth, who they represent, that it is okay for agencies licensed by the state to discriminate in making their services available to prospective adoptive and foster care parents, the 1,200 children waiting for a loving forever home and the 6,000 children in foster care,” said Claire Gastanaga, Equality Virginia’s legislative counsel.
In its action on Wednesday, the board left in place the state’s current non-discrimination policy for adoption and foster care, which bans discrimination based on race, color, and national origin.
Gastanaga, who attended the meeting in which the board voted, said the vote came after a Cuccinelli representative told the six board members that expanding the rules to include sexual orientation discrimination and the other categories could subject board members to “personal liability.”
She said legal experts supporting the expanded non-discrimination rule have disputed Cuccinelli’s claim that the board doesn’t have the authority to make the change.
A spokesperson for the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union told Reuter’s News Service that the ACLU was considering filing a lawsuit to challenge the board’s action.
The board has said that during a 30-day public comment period on the proposed rule change it received 1,611 comments in support of expanding the non-discrimination protections and 1,154 comments opposed to the expanded protections.
Among those speaking out against the expanded protects was Krystal Thompson, chief executive officer of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, one of several faith based organizations licensed by the state to facilitate adoptions and foster care placements.
“We have the right under federal and state law to make decisions consistent with our religious beliefs,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch quoted her as saying.
Gastanaga said some faith based adoption agencies as well as non-religious agencies routinely approve adoptions and foster care placements to lesbians and gay men in Virginia.
“Equality Virginia believes that best interests of the child should be the sole basis for child placement decisions,” she said in a statement. “Discrimination based on any of the factors stripped from the final rules has no place in the decision by the state or its licensed agencies whether to provide adoption or foster care services to children or to prospective loving parents.”
Aradhana ‘Bela’ Sood, professor of psychiatry and chair the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, serves as chair of the State Board of Social Services. She was the one board member to vote against the decision to reject the expanded non-discrimination rules.
“The science really doesn’t substantiate the notion that that is the only way children should be raised,” the Times-Dispatch quoted her as saying in referring to the assumption that children do better when raised by a married heterosexual couple.