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Virginia measure highlights battle over gays’ adopting

Even church-related agencies couldn’t discriminate

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A "sleeper measure" that would prevent Virginia child-welfare agencies from considering sexual orientation or religion in their placements has drawn hundreds of complaints — and the attention of an outraged Republican state lawmaker.

The clash is one of a number taking place across the country even as lawmakers on Capitol Hill are preparing a push to make such gay anti-discrimination policies the law of the land.

"Your state government is in the final stages of adopting regulations that would compel state-licensed private and church-run adoption agencies to place children for adoption or foster care with homosexual couples or individuals," Virginia Delegate Robert G. Marshall said in a newsletter to constituents on his website.

He urged supporters to tell Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican, what they think of the proposed Department of Social Services (DSS) policy. The governor can offer an amendment to the change if he acts quickly, Mr. Marshall said.

In Washington, Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat, will soon be re-introducing his "Every Child Deserves a Family Act," according to House aides.

Mr. Stark's bill, which had 40 co-sponsors last year, would restrict federal funding to states and child-welfare agencies that discriminate against prospective parents based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat, recently told the Washington Blade that she was preparing a similar bill in the Senate.

If Congress enacted such anti-discrimination laws, it would affect funding for dozens of states that are either silent on gay-couple adoption or do not permit it.

That would include Arkansas, where the state Supreme Court is now hearing a challenge to the 2008 voter-approved Act 1, which blocks cohabiting couples from adopting or serving as foster parents. The measure serves as a de facto ban for gay couples since they cannot legally marry in Arkansas.

Ten states and the District of Columbia permit gay couples to adopt, according to a 2008 analysis by the Evan B. Donaldson Institute.

All states allow single homosexuals to adopt. Florida had been a lone exception, but its policy was thrown out as unconstitutional by a court last year.

In Virginia, private child-placing agencies regularly place children with adults based on religious criteria and marital status. But this would change under the proposed DSS policy, which would forbid agencies from giving preference to applicants based on religion, sexual orientation or marital status.

A DSS spokeswoman said the agency is reviewing the public comments "to develop the final regulatory package that will be taken to the State Board of Social Services for their approval."

But that policy is a violation of freedom of religion and may drive faith-based agencies out of Virginia, said many of the more than 1,000 people who flocked to a Virginia website to comment on the proposed policy before the April 1 deadline.

"This blanket prohibition fails to recognize that some agencies are sponsored by religious organizations, and the mission of such agencies is to place children with members of a specific church or religious philosophy," wrote Robert Mackay, a practitioner at LDS Family Services, which is affiliated with the Mormon Church.

In Virginia, only single individuals and married couples, as defined by the commonwealth's constitution, can receive a child for purposes of adoption, said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation. The proposed DSS policy "tramples on religious freedom" and "goes far beyond any policy in the Virginia Code."

The DSS policy was initiated at the end of the administration of Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, but has been extended several times by McDonnell administration officials, much to the surprise of Mr. Marshall.

"This was going through — it's a sleeper measure," said the Manassas-area lawmaker. He recently wrote to Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II with questions about the DSS's authority to make such changes. "I want them to answer me about why they think this, basically, is in the public interest," Mr. Marshall said.

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