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Virginia Politics
Posted at 05:29 PM ET, 10/11/2011

Va. social services board to vote again on adoption regulations

A coalition of advocacy groups is urging the state Board of Social Services to reconsider its April vote that they say allows faith-based organizations in Virginia to discriminate in adoptions.

The board had delayed implementation of the regulations to allow 30 additional days of public comment. The comment period ends at midnight Tuesday.

More than 2,000 people had submitted comments on the state’s regulatory Web site by late Tuesday afternoon.

Some said they do not want qualified people to be barred from adopting or becoming foster parents. Others said the board should not force agencies to take on certain clients because allowing gay parents to adopt goes against their religious beliefs.

“Do you want to end state regulations that don’t  protect gay and lesbian individuals from becoming adoptive or foster parents at  a time when thousands of children languish in the state’s foster care system  waiting for a home?’’ Equality Virginia asked in an e-mail to supporters this week.

The board has not indicated when it will vote, but it could be as soon as next week’s meeting in Abingdon.

“There are currently 6,000 children in Virginia’s foster care system and 1,500 of them are eligible for adoption,” said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council. “Each of those children deserves a family and there are thousands of Virginians who would open up their hearts and homes to these kids if given the opportunity.’’ 

The board had considered proposed regulations, as 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.

“In Virginia, individual homosexuals can already adopt and there are public and  private agencies that facilitate those adoptions,’’ according to an e-mail to supporters from the conservative Family Foundation this week.  “Adding discriminatory language to the  regulations would not increase the number of children being adopted into homes,  it would decrease it by forcing the majority of private child placement agencies, which are sectarian, to cease fulfilling their mission or violate  their faith. This would not help  children but place them at risk.”

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 — straight or gay — 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.

By  |  05:29 PM ET, 10/11/2011

 
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