The State Board of Social Services on Wednesday delayed its April vote to continue a practice that some argue allows faith-based organizations in Virginia to discriminate in adoptions.
The board will vote after allowing 30 more days for public comment.
A coalition of advocacy groups had asked the board to allow for more time as state law mandates if the proposed regulations include changes of substantial impact and 25 people ask for the time.
Equality Virginia, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups did not want qualified people to be barred from adopting or becoming foster parents.
“Equality Virginia believes that discrimination based on age, religion, gender, disability, political beliefs, family status, or sexual orientation should have no place in the decision by the state or its licensed agencies whether to provide adoption or foster care services to children or to prospective loving parents,’’ said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. “We urge all Virginians who share this belief to take advantage of the opportunity that the State Board has provided and make your views known during the public comment period.”
Some conservative and religious groups supported the board’s initial decision and opposed a delay, saying that allowing gay parents to adopt goes against their religious beliefs.
“With the specter of costly litigation hanging over their heads, the decision by the board to reopen the public comment period is no surprise. But we know that this decision was not based on any merit to arguments presented in favor of the decision,’’ said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation. “They have been aware of the proposed regulations for nearly two years and had ample opportunity to make their case. They failed, and now they are using the threat of litigation to get their way.”
The board had considered proposed regulations, part of a massive overhaul of adoption rules, that would have added protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, age, religion, political beliefs, disability and family status.
It voted to not allow the other protections after a slew of faith-based groups and adoption agencies insisted that they be able to screen prospective parents on religious or moral beliefs.
The board, which has five Democratic appointees, voted after receiving advice from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) and Social Services Commissioner Martin Brown, an appointee of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). All three opposed the proposed changes.
Cuccinelli’s office told members in a memo that the proposal “does not comport with applicable state law and public policy” and that the board “lacks the authority to adopt this proposed language.”
Virginia is one of 34 states where only single men and women and married couples can adopt, according to the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.
Lawmakers and activists have disagreed about whether the proposed regulations would have allowed other classes, including unmarried couples — heterosexual or homosexual — to adopt. But state officials say unmarried couples would not have been able to adopt even if the original proposed regulations had passed.
Last year, nearly 2,500 children were adopted in Virginia, according to the Department of Social Services, but it does not track how many are adopted through faith-based groups. About 5,700 children are in the foster-care system in Virginia. Of those, 1,300 are ready to be adopted.