Equality Virginia (EV), a nonpartisan organization representing the estimated three-quarters of a million Virginians who are GLBT and their allies, has two major objectives in the 2012 General Assembly session. Both have to do with ending arbitrary discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The first goal is to codify protections against workplace discrimination for all state employees. The second is to ensure that state-licensed and state-funded foster care and adoption agencies are not authorized by law to refuse services to any child or prospective parents simply because of their gender, age, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation, disability or family status.
Virginia has no law protecting any public employee from discrimination on the job. We are one of only 20 states where you can still be fired from a state or local job because of your sexual orientation or gender identity. This reality undercuts the commonwealth's ability to recruit the best and the brightest, adversely affects our competitiveness and, ultimately, holds the potential to undercut the quality of state services.
EV believes that passage of state workplace nondiscrimination legislation is a small step forward in ensuring that Virginia is truly an inclusive commonwealth.
With respect to adoption and foster care, the State Board of Social Services recently decided to allow state-licensed and state-funded adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against children in the system and prospective parents based on gender, age, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation, disability or family status. This decision means that such agencies can refuse to allow a single person or married couple to use their services simply because a prospective parent has a disability, is a certain age, is a man, is the "wrong" religion or is gay. It also means that children in the foster care system, which studies show are disproportionately not "straight," can be denied services or subjected to discriminatory placements.
EV believes that the legislature should not codify this decision but should act to protect children in the child welfare system and prospective foster and adoptive parents from such discrimination. The only factor that should control adoption and foster care placements is the best interests of the child, and this should be an individualized assessment considering all relevant factors. Unless the law is changed, however, state-licensed and state-funded adoption and foster care agencies will continue to deny services to children and to prospective parents based on their sexual orientation or other discriminatory factors, compounding the difficulties in finding loving, permanent homes for the thousands of children in foster care and awaiting adoption.
Faith-based adoption agencies argue that they have a religious right to discriminate. While EV respects the right of individuals to practice their faith without government interference, the child-placing agencies licensed to facilitate adoptions and foster care are functioning as agencies of the state. As agents of the state, when placing children, they are not engaged in private acts (as would be the case with respect to employment decisions). Just as the state cannot deny any citizen the equal protection of the laws, neither can the agents of the state, i.e., the licensed child-placing agencies, even if they are run by faith-based organizations.
EV recognizes that a statutory ban on discrimination by licensed agencies will not fix what our members consider fundamental flaws in Virginia's current adoption law. Current law does not authorize second-parent adoptions or adoptions by unmarried couples (same sex or opposite sex). Those issues, complicated by passage of the Marshall/Newman amendment, remain to be addressed. Nonetheless, a legislative ban on discrimination against the children in the system and prospective parents legally able to adopt would be a positive step in the right direction and increase the prospects that every child in our foster care system or awaiting adoption can find a loving permanent home.