LGBT activists remain concerned that a new Virginia law that allows private adoption and foster care agencies to reject prospective parents based on religious or moral beliefs could subject gays and lesbians to what they describe as unnecessary discrimination.
Senate Bill 349, which became known as the “conscience clause,” took effect on July 1 after Gov. Bob McDonnell signed it into law earlier this year. Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) told the Blade that SB 349 only reinforces current regulations that “made it easier to discriminate” against prospective parents based on their sexual orientation.
“Equality Virginia still believes this constitutes state-supported discrimination, as these agencies are using state funding to perform a public function,” added James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. “We are most concerned about LGBTQ youth in the foster care system, since agencies can place these children in harmful situations such as ex-gay therapy, as long as doing so is in accordance with the agencies’ beliefs.”
North Dakota is the only other state with a so-called “conscience clause” adoption law.
Catholic Charities of Boston in 2006 ceased adoptions after it refused to comply with Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation (and now gender identity and expression.) Catholic Charities of Illinois followed suit late last year after lawmakers directed the agency, which received public funds, to place children with same-sex couples after the state’s civil unions law took effect.
State Sen. Jeff McWaters (R-Virginia Beach,) who sponsored SB 349, did not return the Blade’s request for comment. McDonnell spokesperson Taylor Thonrley defended the law.
“This legislation just codifies existing regulations that prohibit religious discrimination,” she told the Blade. “Private, religious-based adoption agencies are a major asset to our communities as they work diligently to find loving, caring, stable homes for children in need of care. This legislation will help ensure that these adoption agencies remain active in finding homes for these children without being mandated by government to violate the tenets of their deeply held religious beliefs in the process. This is a bill that reaffirms religious liberty and freedom, a hallmark of this great nation.”
Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, told the Blade that her organization has “not heard directly” from gay Virginians who may have been directly impacted by the statute. She stressed that she feels “it’s just a matter of time before we see it play out.”
“The primary and most obvious concern is that children will be denied the opportunity to be placed in a loving home environment because some agency decides for whatever reason because of their moral belief they are not going to place that child with a same-sex couple,” added Chrisler. “That’s what’s so sad about this law, that it is really denying opportunity to those kids in the foster care system and in the adoption system in Virginia, which has one of the worst records in the country in terms of placing kids out of foster care. It denies them the opportunity to have a chance, to experience a loving stable home environment.”