February 10, 2012 at 9:38 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Virginia Senate passes anti-gay adoption bill

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.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • 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.

    Faith-based organizations to taxpayers: “Freedom of conscience for us, but not for you.”

  • I do believe your headline is a lie. The bill seems to allow people the freedom of association to create private adoption agencies that only place kids with heterosexual couples. Does it allow creating adoption agencies that are open to gay people? Or that only service gays and lesbians? If it does not, your headline is a lie.

    If the Virginia state bill merely protects the freedom of association of private Virginia adoption agencies that do not want to make gay adoptions, then of course this same freedom of association is what would allow you to start an adoption agency that specialized in gay adoptions, or lesbian adoptions (or African American adoptions, or that deliberately treated all couples equally, or that had any other special mission).

    Just as leftover fascists are currently are trying to force everyone who doesn’t approve of sterilization (etc.) to pay for insurance plans that provide it, they are trying to make it impossible for a pregnant woman who wants to give her baby up only to a specific type of person or couple (gay or straight, two parent, the same race, etc.) to be unable to do so. Increasing the chance that she might choose abortion. One can imagine for example, a pregnant woman whose gay siblings had suffered abuse at the hands of a homophobic parent, who discovers from genetic testing that her baby is likely to be gay, who wants to choose an adoption agency that would only place her baby with a gay couple. Your one size fits all fascism would deny her access to such a “discriminatory” adoption agency.

    This is replicated throughout the economy. Currently it is illegal in DC and many counties and some states for a realtor to tell people whether neighbors, buyers, sellers, etc. are gay or straight. I once had a lesbian (and socialist) friend and client who was house shopping ask me which blocks or areas were most friendly for a lesbian couple planning a child. I had to tell her it is illegal in DC for me to provide any information about the neighbors, because sexual orientation is a protected class in DC, and fair housing laws violate real estate agent’s free speech to answer such a question. If she had wanted to go to Virginia, where sexual orientation is not a protected class, I could have answered her.

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