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Virginia Politics
Posted at 05:23 PM ET, 12/14/2011

Va. social services board votes again to allow for what some say is discrimination in adoptions regulations

A state board voted Wednesday for a second time to continue a practice that some argue allows faith-based organizations in Virginia to discriminate in adoptions.

The State Board of Social Services agreed to a second vote, as was required by law, after a coalition of advocacy groups asked for more time for public comment. More than 2,500 comments were submitted.

The 5 to 1 vote came late Wednesday after an hour of emotional testimony. No board member changed their vote.

Equality Virginia, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups said they did not want qualified people to be barred from adopting or becoming foster parents. But some conservative and religious groups insisted that they be able to screen prospective parents on religious or moral grounds.

The proposed regulations, part of a massive overhaul of adoption rules that will go into effect May 1, would have added protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, age, religion, political beliefs, disability and family status. The current rules ban discrimination based on national origin, race and color.

“Equality Virginia believes that best interests of the child should be the sole basis for child placement decisions,” said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, the group’s legislative counsel. “Discrimination based on any of the factors stripped from the final rules has 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.”

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. The proposed change would not have allowed unmarried couples to adopt.

About 3,330 same-sex couples are raising about 6,700 children in Virginia, according to the Family Equality Council, a gay-rights organization. Most were adopted in Virginia, allowing only one parent to have custody.

Board chairwoman Bela Sood, who was appointed by former Democratic governors Mark Warner and Timothy M. Kaine, voted no. Two other board members were not present; and one seat is vacant.

McDonnell has said he supports the regulations passed by the board because faith-based organizations should be able to make their policies.

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.

The board initially voted in April after receiving advice from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) and Social Services Commissioner Martin Brown, an appointee of Gov. Bob 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.”

His position reverses a 2009 decision made by his predecessor, William C. Mims, a former Republican legislator and now a Virginia Supreme Court justice.

By  |  05:23 PM ET, 12/14/2011

 
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