Senate Joins House in Approving Bill Allowing Discrimination by State-Licensed Adoption Agencies

ACLU of Virginia will consider legal challenge if measure becomes law

Richmond, VA– The Senate today joined the House of Delegates in approving a bill that allows private state-licensed adoption and foster care agencies, many of which are faith-based, to discriminate against prospective parents based on sexual orientation, religion or other bases that may be contrary to the adoption agency’s religious tenets.

The Senate passed SB 349 on a 22 to 18 vote.  The House passed HB 189, 71 to 28, on February 3.

“Virginia’s lawmakers are not only allowing private adoption agencies to discriminate against prospective parents, with the passage of this law they seem to be encouraging it,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.

The legislative measure comes after the State Board of Social Services nearly put in place regulations that would have prohibited discrimination in adoptions and foster care placement, but decided against it when the Governor and anti-gay advocacy groups opposed the changes.

“Less than a year ago, Virginia was on the verge of adopting rather routine non-discrimination rules to apply to state-licensed adoption and foster care agencies,” added Willis.  “Now we have turned 180 degrees and are actually enabling discrimination.  Suffering most will be the many parentless children in state care whose likelihood of placement with caring families just dropped dramatically.”

Virginia has the second lowest rate of public adoptions in the nation.  Currently, over 1,300 vulnerable children in Virginia are in need of homes.  More than half of these children are of African-American heritage.  This legislation will delay or deny permanency for some children because the state-contracted agency responsible for their placement can turn away qualified families for reasons unrelated to child welfare.

In October, the ACLU of Virginia submitted comments to the Board of Social Services stating that private adoption agencies, including faith-based groups, should not be allowed to discriminate when they perform governmental functions such as certifying adoptive parents or placing children with foster parents.  The ACLU’s comments, authored by Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg, may be found online at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/20111013CommentsonAdoptionRegs.pdf.

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022