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McDonnell weighs proposal that would allow gays to adopt

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RICHMOND — Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is considering whether to try to derail proposed regulations developed by his Democratic predecessor that would for the first time allow gay couples to adopt children in Virginia.

McDonnell has less than two weeks to act on the regulations that would force state-licensed private and church-run agencies to allow unmarried couples — heterosexual or homosexual — to adopt children.

Conservatives, including Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), are lobbying McDonnell to ask the State Board of Social Services to kill the proposal because they do not think it is healthy for gay couples to raise children.

Marshall said that he considers the change part of a “radical anti-family proposal” and that he does not even think single people should adopt, which is currently allowed by law. “Children need a mother and a father,” he said.

Eric Finkbeiner, McDonnell’s policy director, said that the governor was considering his options but in general “supports and encourages” adoption of children by married couples and single parents.

McDonnell alienated gay rights activists shortly after taking office when he excluded sexual orientation from an executive order that barred discrimination in the state workforce, a break in tradition from his Democratic predecessors.

Later, when Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II advised the state’s public colleges to rescind policies that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, McDonnell further angered gay rights activists when, in an attempt to quell the matter, he issued a nonbinding “executive directive” prohibiting discrimination in the state workforce, including on the basis of sexual orientation.

McDonnell must make his recommendation to the State Board of Social Services, a nine-member panel in which all but four members are holdovers from his Democratic predecessor, by April 16.

The social services board has spent more than a year working on developing regulations. It received more than 1,000 responses during a public comment period, which ended Friday.

If the board approves a significantly changed regulation, 25 people could ask that the public comment period be reopened and implementation be delayed.

Kaine, who is expected to run for U.S. Senate next year, proposed the change to the regulations in November 2009, less than two months before he left the office to become the full-time chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Currently, only married couple and single men and women — regardless of sexual orientation — can adopt in Virginia. The proposal, according to the governor’s office, would mandate that gay singles and unmarried couples be able to access faith-based groups, such as Catholic Charities and Jewish Family Services, to adopt children.

Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, general counsel to Equality Virginia and a former chief deputy attorney general, disputed that the proposed regulations would not allow unmarried couples to adopt. “They’re trying to create problems where none exist,” she said.

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation, said she contacted the governor’s office and is confident that the administration plans to recommend the removal of the language.

Cobb said her organization, which is against gay couples adopting children, opposes the regulations more strongly on the basis of religious freedom. She said private adoption agencies deserve to have the ability to screen prospective parents based on the agency’s beliefs.

Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic dioceses, said his organization also opposes the new regulations on the basis of religious freedom.

“Faith-based agencies have certain deeply held convictions,” he said. He said it’s important to preserve freedom of conscience.

Marshall said he notified the governor’s office last week when he first heard about the proposal. Finkbeiner said the administration has known about the regulations for the past year but waited to act because the governor generally weighs in after the public comment ends.

Marshall said he also asked Cuccinelli for an opinion on the matter Friday but had not heard back.

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