Adoption Agency "Conscience Clause" is Target of Legislation

Feb 12, 2021

Lawmakers are debating a bill aimed at preventing discrimination by adoption agencies.

But the House and the Senate are divided over how to do it.

The intersection of religious freedom and discrimination against LGBTQ Virginians is a difficult spot for lawmakers, who are struggling with how to balance those values in Virginia adoption law.

Delegate Mark Levine is a Democrat from Alexandria who introduced a bill to repeal the so-called "conscience clause," which allows religious groups to deny service to gay parents.  "The bill is actually very modest," Levine argued. "All it does is repeal the requirement that Virginia license and fund these agencies. It doesn't actually prevent Virginia from licensing and funding these agencies as they did prior to 2012, but it says that it's no longer required."

The bill has already passed the House, but senators have concerns with Levine’s approach. Here's Senator Jeremy McPike, a Democrat from Prince William County.  "I've heard concern from faith-based organizations that they also do not want to lose the ability to have a licensure while also protecting their faith-based arrangements."

McPike and other senators changed Levine's bill to make sure that religious-based groups that discriminate against gays won't lose their contracts as long as they refer gay parents to other child-placement organizations that don't discriminate.

Delegates and Senators might end up working out their differences behind closed doors in a conference committee.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.