Virginia Legislature Passes Bill to Protect Child-Care Agencies That Decline Homosexual Adoptions

Bishops of the state hail passage as victory for religious liberty.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. (photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News)

A bill that ensures that faith-based adoption agencies in the state of Virginia won’t be forced to place children in households led by same-sex couples has passed both houses of the General Assembly and is heading to the desk of Gov. Robert McDonnell, a supporter of the legislation, who is expected to sign it soon.

The bill passed in the state Senate on a 22-18 vote and by 71 to 28 in the House of Delegates.

Speaking on behalf of Virginia’s Catholic bishops, who strongly supported the bill, Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, called passage of the bill “a tremendous victory for our first freedom, religious liberty.”

“Private, religious-based adoption agencies are a major asset to our communities as they work diligently to find loving, caring, stable homes for children in need of care,” Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for the governor, said in an email.

“This legislation will help ensure that these adoption agencies remain active in finding homes for these children,” Caldwell continued, “without being mandated by government to violate the tenets of their deeply held religious beliefs in the process. This is a bill that reaffirms religious liberty and freedom, a hallmark of this great nation.”

“This move strengthens First Amendment protections and safeguards our ability to assist those many families who seek and depend on our help,” said Art Bennett, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington.

Virginia’s three Catholic Charities agencies together placed 137 children in adoptive homes and provided 307 foster-care placements for children, according to Caruso, who hailed the bill as “explicit conscience protection” for Catholic agencies, which now “can’t be forced to do placements that violate their moral and religious beliefs.”

Although the word “homosexual” is not used, the bill clearly exempts faith-based agencies from having to allow homosexuals to adopt: According to the bill, “to the extent allowed by federal law,” private agencies will not have to make placements that require the agency to violate its “written religious or moral convictions.”

In order for it to be constitutional, the law has to align with federal anti-discrimination laws.

‘Theft From the Church’

Caruso said the legislation came about as the result of a regulatory process last year in which the question of whether to force private agencies, including faith-based ones, to disregard factors such as “sexual orientation” and “family status” when placing children in homes figured prominently.

Though provisions seen as objectionable to faith-based organizations were rejected by the State Board of Social Services, leaders of religiously based, private child-placement agencies worried that the issue would continue to arise and that eventually they would be forced to violate their consciences.

As a result of this concern, Caruso said, the Virginia Catholic Conference, along with Virginia Bishops Paul Loverde of Arlington and Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond, made it a “top priority” to see that statutes were enacted by the General Assembly to ensure conscience protection.

A statement by the Virginia Catholic Conference says that the bill “ensures that Virginia’s children can continue to be served by faith-based agencies and that Virginia’s birthparents and prospective adoptive parents can continue to choose agencies that share their values.”

While not breaking new ground, the bill codifies the current situation. Virginia permits single people and married couples to adopt. Since homosexual “marriage” is not legal in the state, two homosexuals living together could not adopt under the current law. The statute protects faith-based organizations from having to place a child with a single homosexual and could provide protection if marriage laws are changed.

“It is unsettling that we have to resort to state-level legislation to ensure religious liberties that are supposed to be protected under the Constitution,” said state Sen. Jeff McWaters, a Republican from Virginia Beach and sponsor of the bill. “However, I am glad to have played a role in maintaining our network of adoption agencies here in Virginia.”

Homosexual activists lobbied hard against the bill. A notice on the website of Equality Virginia, a homosexual-advocacy group, proclaims: “Now is the time to act!” with regard to the “so-called conscience-clause bills that have passed in both the House and the Senate.”

“When these agencies take hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, when they say ‘Yes’ to funding from the states, and gay people pay taxes, they do not have the right to discriminate against our community,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. 

A legislative aide to McWaters, Miles Morin, didn’t agree. “My question back to him,” said Morin, “is this: So you are a taxpayer, as are most people in Virginia. Are you saying that, because you pay taxes, you should be able to tell anyone who receives any state tax funds what to do? That just doesn’t make sense.”

Parrish was not troubled when it was suggested that, if forced to make placements they regard as morally objectionable, adoption providers in Virginia might have to close their doors, as did Catholic adoption agencies in Massachusetts.

“You need to look at statistics,” Parrish said. “When people have said, ‘If you do this, we’ll go out of business,’ they have rebranded as non-religious organizations.” He cited developments in the state of Illinois, where, confronted with government requirements for homosexual adoption, some agencies folded, while others complied by severing ties to the Catholic Church.

Philip Lawler, editor of Catholic World News, took a dim view of this kind of compliance. “It’s basically theft from the Church,” Lawler said. “These people did whatever they had to do with their structures to survive. There is also the question of their witness. They were, in effect, saying, ‘We don’t care’ [about ties to the Church].”

Delegate Todd Gilbert, a Republican, who sponsored the conscience bill and shepherded it through the House, had something to say about the strong opposition to the bill.

“Critics of this legislation would have us live in a totally secular world where faith-based agencies would be discriminated against. They would have no problem with that. They don’t want any agency with moral convictions about the family to be able to facilitate adoption,” said Gilbert.

Obama Weighs In

It is rare for a president to become involved in state-level legislative battles, but The Christian Post reported that White House spokesman Shin Inouye released a statement about the Virginia bill from President Obama.

According to the Post, the statement read: “While the president does not weigh in on every single action taken by legislative bodies in our country, he has long believed that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals based on their interest in offering a loving home, not based on discriminatory and irrelevant factors.”

Register correspondent Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.