Strong objections by LGBT rights advocates and reservations expressed by a White House spokesperson were brushed aside by the Virginia Legislature this week as it cleared for approval a bill that allows state-funded agencies to deny adoptions based on religious or “moral” grounds.
State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who is gay, said that although the words “sexual orientation” and “gay” or “lesbian” are not in Senate Bill 349, lawmakers clearly understand that it’s aimed at justifying the denial of adoptions or foster child placement for gay people.
Supporters dubbed the measure the “conscience clause” bill, saying it would allow faith-based adoption agencies to exercise their conscience in deciding whether granting an adoption for certain individuals would violate their religious or moral beliefs.
“This would put into the law that they can be turned away,” Ebbin said in discussing potential gay or lesbian adoptive parents “The issue is simple – whether or not state dollars should be used or taxpayers’ funds should be used to fund discrimination in adoption and foster care.”
The Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates voted 71-28 last week to approve the bill. A Senate committee approved the measure on Feb. 3, and the full Senate, which is also controlled by Republicans, was expected to approve the bill on Thursday.
Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell has said he plans to sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
The “conscience clause” adoption measure, introduced by Sen. Jeffrey McWaters (R-Virginia Beach), doesn’t ban gay people from adopting or becoming foster parents. Ebbin and others familiar with the bill said it would not change existing state law that allows private agencies to approve gay adoptions and gay foster care placement if they wish to do so.
The legislation instead provides a state seal of approval to state-funded agencies that refuse to approve adoptions and foster care placement to a gay person or to other individuals based on religious or moral grounds, Ebbin said.
White House spokesperson Shin Inouye, when asked about the adoption measure by the Washington Blade, said President Obama believes adoption placement shouldn’t be based on discrimination.
“Although the president does not weigh in on every single action taken by legislative bodies in our country, he has long believed that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals based on their interest in offering a loving home, not based on discriminatory and irrelevant factors,” Inouye said.
“He recognizes that adoptive families come in many forms, and that we must do all we can to break down barriers to ensure that all qualified caregivers have the ability to serve as adoptive families,” Inouye said.
As the “conscience clause” adoption bill was placed on a fast track for approval, separate bills that would ban job discrimination against state employees and ban adoption-related discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity died in committee in the Virginia Senate last week. Ebbin was among the lead sponsors of both bills.
On Feb. 1, one day before the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services approved the conscience clause bill, it rejected an adoption non-discrimination bill that Ebbin introduced.
Ebbin’s bill called for banning discrimination in adoption and foster care placement based on a list of categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
Two days earlier, the Virginia Senate’s Committee on General Laws and Technology voted 8-7 along party lines to defeat an employment non-discrimination bill that Ebbin and Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County) introduced.
Senate Bill 263 called for protecting state employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
A similar bill introduced in the Virginia Senate passed in committee and in the full Senate in 2010 and 2011 when the Senate was controlled by Democrats. It died both years in the House of Delegates, which was Republican controlled.
Democrats lost control of the Senate in the November 2011 election, which left the Senate equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. The state’s Republican lieutenant governor, who has authority to cast a tie-breaking vote, effectively placed control of the Senate in the Republicans’ hands.
That enabled Republicans this year to gain an 8-7 majority on the General Laws and Technology Committee, which had jurisdiction over Ebbin’s employment non-discrimination bill.
A report released on Monday by the Williams Institute, a think tank affiliated with the University of Southern California’s Law School, says the conscience clause adoption bill, if enacted, could result in the expenditure of millions of dollars more by the state for its adoption and foster care services.
The report, written by Gary Gates, an expert on U.S. Census data pertaining to gays, estimates that 1,700 adopted children and 300 foster children are currently being raised by single lesbians and gay men in Virginia.
“If this legislation were to pass, families such as these may find it more difficult to serve as adoptive or foster parents, resulting in more children in congregate [state-run] care or more children remaining in foster care for longer periods of time,” the report says. It says the state saves nearly $30,000 per year for each child adopted out of the foster care system, and that savings would be lost if fewer gays were to adopt.
James Parish, executive director of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, said the decision by the General Laws and Technology Committee to defeat the employment non-discrimination bill indicates that LGBT people are being treated as “second-class citizens in Virginia.
“Virginia is one of only 20 states where you can still be fired from a state or local job simply because of your sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said.
“The reality undercuts the Commonwealth’s ability to recruit the best and the brightest to be our college professors, our teachers and our other public employees,” he said.