Letters seeking reopening of comment period delivered to Board of Social Services

Richmond, VA– The ACLU of Virginia and more than 25 other organizations and individuals today asked the Virginia Board of Social Services to postpone the issuance of regulations that allow faith-based organizations in the state to discriminate in adoptions based on sexual orientation.
The request to delay implementation and reopen the public comment period comes after the Board voted 7-2 on April 20 to reject a proposal to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“The vote by the Board of Social Services to reject the non-discrimination regulations took place too quickly without ample public notice,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.  “We want an opportunity for the Board to hear what Virginia residents really think, and the only way to do that is to reopen the process.”
The Social Services Board seemed poised to add regulations prohibiting private adoption agencies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, age, religion, political beliefs, disability and family status.
But heavy lobbying from faith-based groups, which argued that they should be able to screen prospective parents based on their religious or moral beliefs doomed the proposal.  Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli also weighed in, telling the Board that it lacked the authority to ban religious groups from discriminating.
The ACLU of Virginia, which has fought for the right of religious organizations to act on their religious beliefs, issued a statement noting that private adoption agencies, including faith-based groups, should not be allowed to discriminate when they perform “a quintessentially governmental function,” such as certifying adoptive parents or placing children with foster parents.
Under the Virginia Administrative Process Act, state agencies must delay implementation of rules and reopen the public comment period when they receive 25 requests, and the change between the proposed rule and the published rules will have a “substantial impact.”
At the April 20 meeting, Social Services Board chairwoman Bela Sood sought a postponement of the vote on the regulations, citing lack of time for appropriate public comment. But her motion was voted down, and the board proceeded to overwhelmingly reject the non-discrimination proposal.
The ACLU statement, which was distributed at a press conference earlier today,  can be found online at: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/2011AdoptionStatement.pdf
The ACLU's letter asking for the delay of the regulations can be found online at: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/20110517ACLUAdoptionRegLtr.pdf.

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

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