Virginia Gay Adoptions: Board Of Social Services Reconsiders Anti-Discrimination Measure

WASHINGTON -- Nearly 20,000 same-sex Virginia households would still be prohibited from adopting or fostering children under commonwealth law, even if regulations barring child-placement agencies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or family status were to be adopted.

The Virginia Board of Social Services will be briefed this week on public comments submitted in response to the proposed regulatory change.

The board first considered the changes last April, as part of a package of adoption-reform regulations, some of which passed. The parts of the regulation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or family status died when social services board members voted 7-2 to reject the change.

The board faced pressure from religious groups and Virginia officials. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli told the board it lacked the legal authority to enact the regulations, and Gov. Bob McDonnell also came out against the regulations, saying faith-based adoption groups should not have to place children with households led by same-sex couples.

When advocates asked for a reconsideration, the board re-opened the public comment period on the proposed changes on Sept. 12. That call for comment ended a week ago. More than 2,500 comments were submitted during that month. While many urged the board to "Preserve Religious freedom" by allowing agencies to consider sexual orientation in making adoption and foster care placements, others asked the board to adopt the anti-discriminatory measures.

Religious groups like the Family Policy Network have again come out warning that the regulations would "force homosexual adoption on all state agencies." The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia again joined with Equality Virginia and some two dozen other groups in asking the board to end gay and lesbian discrimination with the proposed regulations.

But, if adopted, the new regulations still would not allow same-sex households -- married or otherwise -- to adopt.

Under Virginia law, a child may be adopted or fostered to a married heterosexual couple, or to a single person. Virginia law explicitly prohibits same-sex marriage, and does not consider gay couples married in other states or engaged in civil unions to be married for purposes of adoption law.

Any person who co-habitates with a partner -- of the same sex or of another sex -- may not adopt under Virginia law. Same-sex households are thus now automatically disqualified from adopting under Virginia law. And that disqualification would not change, even if the proposed regulations were to go into effect.

There are no per se restrictions on gay individuals adopting or fostering children in Virginia. Child-placement agencies are under current law allowed to reject gay single individuals' applications to adopt or provide foster care. The proposed regulations would prohibit that type of discrimination.

Eileen Guertler, director of public affairs and citizen services for Virginia's Department of Social Services, told The Huffington Post in an interview that there are some adoptions to gay individuals every year in Virginia, though she could not provide any figures.

Guertler said that the board will review a summary of the public comments at its October meeting, but will not vote on the regulations at that meeting. The board may vote on the regulations in December, but they are not obligated to do so.

"It is up to the Board to place this item on their future agenda and take action on the comments once received," Guertler said in an email.

The board's October meeting, set for Wednesday and Thursday, is open to the public, and will be held at Virginia Department of Social Services Western Regional Office in Washington County (190 Patton St., Abingdon).

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