With Democrats back in control of the Virginia legislature, a state law that allows child adoption agencies to refuse to work with gay couples is up on the chopping block.
Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria) filed a bill in January proposing a complete repeal of the so-called “conscience clause” within Virginia’s adoption laws.
Since the “conscience clause” was passed by Republican lawmakers in 2012, it allows for state-funded faith-based adoption agencies to choose which parents it believes would be suitable for adoption, based on the agencies’ moral and religious beliefs.
Levine’s bill, which would repeal the clause and revoke the licenses of any offending organizations, passed through Virginia’s House in February along party lines.
However, the Virginia Department of Social Services told lawmakers that faith-based agencies in the state currently oversee the foster placement of more than 370 children, accounting for approximately 15 percent of all children in foster care in Virginia.
Some state senators later said they were concerned about the bill’s proposal to close any agency that continues to work under the conscience clause, saying any closures would impact the children under the care of those agencies.
“This is a very difficult one, because many of us in here have 100 percent of the time voted for equality at every step of the way,” Senator Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg) told Virginia Mercury. “I do not want to do anything to stand in the way of placing those children.”
Several Virginia lawmakers, including members of the Senate social services committee, are reportedly considering an amended version of Levine’s bill that would allow Virginia’s adoption agencies to continue operating under the conscience clause, but would cut their state-funding as a consequence.
However, it is unclear whether the potential closure of any agencies would negatively impact any children. Although Levine’s bill would mean offending agencies could be forced to cease operations, any families working with those agencies would be given two years to transfer to a different child-placing agency, according to Virginia Mercury.