Hundreds of opponents and supporters weighed in on proposed regulations that would allow state-licensed groups to turn down prospective adoptive and foster parents because of their sexual orientation, as a public comment period drew to a close this week.
The Virginia Board of Social Services opened the 30-day comment period last month after gay-rights advocates complained about new regulations that were approved in April without a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation, political beliefs, age, physical disability and family status. The groups claimed, incorrectly, the board stripped the protections from the proposed regulations without much public notice, and that the board discussed the issue in closed session without opportunity for public consideration of it.
While Equality Virginia, the ACLU and other groups have said the state shouldn't allow discrimination, faith-based organizations have said it's unfair to force them to go against their religious beliefs.
Virginia allows married couples and single people to adopt or become foster parents, regardless of sexual orientation, but bars unmarried couples gay or straight from doing so. Then-Gov. Timothy Kaine's Democratic administration added the anti-discrimination provision in 2009, but it didn't become a flashpoint for public debate until this year.
By mid-afternoon Tuesday, there were more than 2,300 comments, both in favor of and against the board's changes. More than 300 had been posted on the final day. The comment period closed at midnight.
Equality Virginia has urged its supporters to speak out. "The best interests of the child should be the sole factor in deciding whether a child should be placed with a prospective foster care or adoptive parent or parents," wrote a person identifying herself as a "lesbian adoptive mother of two."
Others support the changes. Many posted comments of support for the removal of the discrimination ban under the identical headline "Preserve Religious Freedom" using template language the conservative Family Foundation posted on its website about the issue.
"I urge the Board to reject any regulation that would discriminate against faith-based child placement agencies," many statements said. "Faith-based child placement agencies have a right, under federal and state law, to make decisions that are consistent with their religious beliefs, including their beliefs about marriage and family life. This right must be respected and preserved."
Austin Nimocks, the Alliance Defense Fund's senior legal counsel noted that
While the missions of several child-placing agencies are expressly faith-based, that faith basis directly serves Virginia's public policy in reflecting the universal understanding that, ideally, children need both a mother and a father. Therefore, Virginia should not burden these agencies with any regulations with threaten their ability to find children homes with loving mothers and fathers.
Nimocks he added that the history of adoption laws in Virginia and the nation shows that their pur-pose is to imitate the natural family. The best interest of children is to be placed with both a mom and a dad, but the proposed regulation would both discriminate against faith-based ministries as well as deny children their best hope and opportunity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.