EV Denounces Taxpayer-Funded Discrimination; Calls on Governor to Veto So-called Conscience Clause Legislation

Richmond, VA - James Parrish, Executive Director of Equality Virginia, released the following statement today upon passage of House Bill 189 (Gilbert), one of a pair of bills that will result in taxpayer funds being used to elevate the religious or moral interests of child-placing agencies over the best interests of children in foster care and awaiting adoption:

Equality Virginia believes that the only factor that should control adoption and foster care placements is the best interests of the child.  No prospective parent or child in the child welfare system should be refused services on the basis any one factor. HB 189, and its identical twin, SB 349 (McWaters), make a mockery out of any claim that child-placing agencies licensed by Virginia operate in the best interests of the children they serve.  Under this legislation, state-licensed and state-funded adoption and foster care agencies will be legally authorized to deny services to children and to prospective parents based solely on their sexual orientation or any other discriminatory factor grounded in their "religious" or "moral" beliefs or policies.  This will be true despite the fact that the state and localities outsource much of their foster care and adoption services to these agencies at a cost to taxpayers of many millions of dollars. This state-funded discrimination will compound the difficulties in finding loving, permanent homes for the thousands of Virginia children in foster care and awaiting adoption -- difficulties that already have resulted in more children in Virginia aging out of foster care than in all but one other state. In addition, this legislation could also endanger the lives and mental health of GLBT children who will not be protected from being placed in homes in which they could be subjected to "treatments" or "therapies" to change their sexual orientation because of the religious or moral beliefs of the placement agency. EV respects the right of individuals to practice their faith without government interference. However, when placing children, these agencies are not engaged in private acts (as would be the case with respect to employment decisions) particularly when they are doing so as a contracted agent.  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. We ask the Governor to veto this ill-considered legislation that will endanger the lives and mental health of children by elevating institutional religious or moral interests over the best interests of children, require taxpayers to fund religious practices with which they disagree, and codify a right for agencies performing public services to discriminate against GLBT children and prospective parents. Founded in 1989 as Virginians for Justice, Equality Virginia is the only state-wide, non-partisan education, outreach and advocacy organization seeking equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Virginians. Equality Virginia believes in a truly inclusive Commonwealth where all are equally welcomed and valued, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.