The Virginia Senate voted 22-18 on Thursday to approve a bill that would allow private adoption and foster care agencies to deny placement of children based on religious or moral beliefs, including disapproval of homosexuality.
The action by the Senate, which fell mostly along partisan lines, came one week after the state’s House of Delegates approved an identical bill. With Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell saying he planned to sign the legislation if it came to him, the bill is certain to become law.
“This bill authorizes every one of the 80 private adoption agencies licensed in Virginia to refuse to offer their services to any GLBT person based on a written moral policy, which they can make up tomorrow,” said State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria and Fairfax), who is gay.
“The bill says they can do that no matter how qualified the prospective mom and dad is to become a parent,” said Ebbin in an impassioned floor speech urging his colleagues to vote against the bill.
All 20 Republicans in the chamber voted for the bill, with two conservative-leaning Democrats, Sen. Charles Colgan of Prince William County and Sen. Phillip Puckett of Russell County joining Republicans to vote for the measure.
The bill, SB 349, became known as the “conscience clause” bill because supporters say it would protect the religious rights of faith based adoption and foster placement agencies, many of whom are funded by the state.
Ebbin and other opponents of the bill said that although it doesn’t say so directly, they believe it is aimed mostly at allowing adoption agencies to turn away LGBT people as adoptive or foster parents.
The bill doesn’t change the state’s existing adoption and foster placement law and policies that allow an agency to place a child with a gay parent if the agency wishes to do so. Existing law prohibits placement of children with an unmarried couple, gay or straight, but it does not bar single parent adoptions or foster placements for gays.
“One of the most important reasons not to pass this bill is I’m sure that next year or soon thereafter we’ll be addressing a bill that seeks to directly do what this bill does do indirectly – and that is to achieve the ultimate goal to ban foster care and adoption by GLBT people completely,” Ebbins told his Senate colleagues.
In an effort to lessen the bill’s impact, Democratic opponents introduced 18 floor amendments on Wednesday. The Senate voted down each of the amendments.
One of the amendments, introduced by Ebbin, called for prohibiting a foster parent from arranging for a gay or lesbian child to undergo “reparative” therapy to change his or her sexual orientation from gay to straight.
The bill could “endanger children – GLBT children – who make up a disproportionate share of youth in our child welfare system,” Ebbin said. “Once this bill becomes law, foster care agencies contracting with the state to place our children will be free to place children in homes that are not in their best interest and potentially damaging to them,” he said.
Ebbin said studies have shown that so-called reparative or conversion therapy often causes those undergoing it great emotional distress and sometimes leads to suicide.
Sen. Jeffrey McWaters (R-Virginia Beach), the lead sponsor of the bill, said the bill was aimed only at protecting the religious and moral beliefs of adoption and foster care agencies that provide an important service for the state.
“This is completely consistent with state and federal law,” he said during the Senate debate. “It does not change who can or cannot adopt a child.”