Va. panel to weigh same-sex adoptions

richmond — Chris Maulden and Doug Maulden-Locke had been together for nearly a decade when they decided to start a family. They were surprised to learn that state law prevented them from adopting a child together.

So they did what some other same-sex couples in Virginia have done: the Maryland Shuffle.

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The couple rented out their three-floor Centreville townhouse and moved to Rockville to be able to adopt their daughter, Mya, now 11 weeks old.

“We wanted to grow our family so badly that we walked away from our home to live in someone else’s home,” said Maulden-Locke, 36, who works at Discovery in Sterling. “We were treated like second-class citizens.”

On Wednesday, a state board will weigh a proposal that some say would for the first time allow same-sex couples to adopt children in Virginia.

But some members of the State Board of Social Services, including Democratic appointees who make up the 5-to-4 majority, say they will be guided by advice from Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, who said in a memo last week that the proposed new adoption rules would violate state law.

Chairwoman Bela Sood, who was appointed by former Democratic governors Mark R. Warner and Timothy M. Kaine, said that despite members’ philosophical disagreements, they must rely on the attorney general’s views. “We have to depend on them,” she said. “They are very clear and direct.”

Cuccinelli’s office said 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.”

Robert Spadaccini, a board member who served under former Republican governors George Allen and James S. Gilmore III and who was appointed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), said the board will “rely heavily’’ on guidance from Cuccinelli. “It will be a driving factor,” he said.

Cuccinelli’s position reverses a 2009 decision made by his predecessor, William C. Mims, a former Republican legislator and now a Virginia Supreme Court justice. Mims did not return messages Tuesday.

Members said they would question Senior Assistant Attorney General Allen Wilson, who advises the nine-member board, about his office’s position.

Gay rights groups are lobbying the board to ignore Cuccinelli’s legal opinion. “His memo at this stage is advice, and clients get to say one way or another whether they accept the counsel,” said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, general counsel to Equality Virginia and a former chief deputy attorney general.

In Virginia, only married couples and single men and women, regardless of sexual orientation, can adopt. The proposed changes would require private and faith-based groups, such as Catholic Charities and Jewish Family Services, to allow gay parents to adopt or foster children.

Mark McDermott, an adoption lawyer who practices in Virginia and who is a board member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, said state law allows faith-based groups to not work with potential adoptive parents on the basis of sexual orientation.

The proposed regulations would protect against discrimination on the basis of gender, age, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, family status, race, color or national origin.

Lawmakers and activists disagree about whether the proposed regulations would allow other classes, including unmarried couples — heterosexual or homosexual — to adopt.

Last year, nearly 2,500 children were adopted in Virginia.

Kaine, who is running for U.S. Senate next year, proposed the change in regulations in November 2009, less than two months before he left office. He recently said he supports the rules but declined to say whether he supports same-sex adoptions, although he has previously opposed it.

If the social services board approves the regulations Wednesday, they would be reviewed by McDonnell, the Department of Planning and Budget, and Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Hazel. McDonnell must sign off on the new rules.

McDonnell has said he opposes the changes because faith-based organizations should be able to make their own policies.

“Many of our adoption agencies are faith-based groups that ought to be able to establish what their own policies are,” he said.

Virginia Social Services Commissioner Martin Brown, who was appointed by McDonnell and who also worked for Allen and Gilmore, will advise the board Wednesday that it cannot adopt the new regulations.

Gay rights and adoption advocacy groups have been pressuring McDonnell and the board — writing them, taking out ads and holding news conferences — to approve the regulations.

“No person who wants to become a parent should be forced to leave the state to do so, and no child should be denied a loving home because of such discrimination,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.

Maulden said he and Maulden-Locke would like to return to Virginia after Mya’s adoption is finalized in September. He said they might consider adopting again but don’t know whether they could afford another Maryland Shuffle.

“I think it’s sad — it’s very sad,” said Maulden, 35, a human resources manager at a parking company in the District. “At the end of the day, it’s about the children. And there are children who aren’t being put in wonderful homes.”

Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

 
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