Virginia rejects gay adoptions: Chat with Human Rights Campaign

Apr 21, 2011

Virginia's State Board of Social Services voted down a proposal late Wednesday that would have prohibited faith-based organizations in Virginia from discriminating in adoptions. Human Rights Campaign Family Project Director Ellen Kahn answered questions about why HRC and other similar organizations fought hard for the proposal and what the board's decision might mean for gay rights.

Greetings everyone.  I am delighted to join you today to answer questions on the important topic of adoption.  Thanks for making the time to participate.

I am always ashamed to admit I live in Virginia because of Richmond's backwards notions of civil rights. Do these organization like the Catholic adoption agencies receive state funding? Or are they 100% private? It does seem to me that private adoption agencies should be free to set their own criteria for adoptive parents. But if they are really representatives of the state then they should lose that ability. Can gay couples still adopt if only one member of the couple officially adopts the child? I know a gay couple here in Arlington with two adopted kids. But I am not sure if they adopted them in DC somehow or what their situation was. Are unmarried heterosexual couples also precluded from adopting?

There are many child welfare and adoption professionals in Virginia who are eager to welcome same-sex couples as adoptive families--the Board's decision does not represent the opinon of all agencies.  I agree that if an agency received public money that should absolutely not discriminate against Virginia citizens.  Catholic Charities places children from foster care, so technically they do receive public money.  And yes, heterosexual couples would be restricted from adopting in VA if they are not married, but truth be told, this restriction disproportionately affects same-sex couples since marriage is not an option in VA.-

Is this an elected or appointed board?

The Board members are appointed by the Governor for a four year term, and I believe they can serve no more than two consecutive terms. 

If same sex couples can adopt under one name, why is this a big deal? They can still adopt, even if only one has legal custody.

It is a big deal.  If there are two parents raising a child together, both should have the legal status that gives them the right to make medical decisions, to speak on behalf of the child with teachers, to put the child on his or her health insurance,  to avoid custody issues if the legal parent should become ill or die.  There is too much vulnerability for both the child and the parents if only one is legally recognized.

When is the next time this issue will be brought up again with this board? Will you guys keep trying to push it through, or is that it for a while?

There are a few options.  First, we will continue to work with the more friendly agencies and open more doors for LGBT prospective parents.  We will also encourage lawmakers to draft legislation that would remove restrictions based on marital status.  It is very possible that a lawsuit will ensue in VA, as it has in Arkansas and Florida, both of which resulted in overturning the restrictions/bans on adoption.  Any and all of these paths are possible. 

Did everyone on the board vote against it?

It was a 7-2 vote. If you are interested in finding out more about who voted in favor, or against, it should be published somewhere and I would encourage you to thank the two brave people who did the right thing for children.

What else do you expect from rich conservative Va? So right now gay couples can NOT adopt?!

Fortunately, adoption agencies have quite a bit of latitude in how they work with same-sex couples.  Some are willing to write a home study for the primary applicant, and to indicate that there is another member of the household.  They get to know that other person as well so they can be confident in the ability of both adults to provide high quality parenting.  They simply do not indicate that they are a "couple," but they do the diligent work of assessing each person, the home, etc. as they would for any prospective adoptive parent.  Again, this is not ideal, but for agencies that value all families and are committed to finding every possible family, it's the best we can do.

As a social worker I find it perplexing that the Board of Social Services voted to maintain a discriminatory policy when it is contradictory to our professional code of ethics and to the guiding best practices in the field of child welfare.

Gay couples shouldn't be allowed to adopt kids PERIOD. It's a toxic environment. How is that normal? Thank you board for standing up for what you believe in!

The majority of kids in foster care were born into families with heterosexual parents, and those were clearly toxic environments.  Sexual orientation does not determine one's ability to parent, it's about the commitment and capacity you have to support a child through all life stages, and to stay engaged and involved.  30 years of research on kids raised by gay parents confirms that the outcomes are very good, and there is not reason (other than prejudice) to prevent gay people from adopting.

I see the user's point that there's an avenue of sorts available to unmarried couples regardless of genders, but the problem I'd identify is one of an inequality with genetic parenting. Two unmarried individuals can have a child and both are legally imbued with parental rights. Why this sort of protection for the child isn't available for children being adopted is puzzling.

That is the point, and a good one.  If two people conceive a child in an act of passion both parents have legal rights to that child whether they intended to conceive, whether they stay in the child's life, etc.  It's just a given.  When two people adopt, they should both have the same legal connection from day one--it's what's best for the child.

I see why you're upset, but why can't religious adoption agencies go by the code they see fit?  They're still providing a good service, and this is their belief system. If you're a same sex couple , go to another agency!

If an agency receives absolutely no public funds, it is not unreasonable for them to set their own policies (though not ideal).  As long as the LGBT community has other options--and they will because there are a growing number of friendly agencies, allowing a few to opt out is not the end of the world.

We can thank the people who voted the right way. A boycott of agencies seems a bad idea in this case. What else can be done?

We need to continue to educate people, to talk about this issue more openly, to point to examples of same-sex couples raising children in our own neighborhoods, going to the same schools, soccer games, dance classes, etc. and demystify the idea that our families are really so different.  We also need to support the agencies that are more open and progressive in their policies.

It's imporant to remember that there are over 1,300 children and youth in foster care in Virginia as we speak, and there simply are not enough qualified families avaiable to adopt them.  There are same-sex couples and single LGBT folks who want to adopt, and are willing and able to adopt an older child from foster care, or a child with special medical or behavioral health needs, and it is a disservice to these children to close the door to any family!

Is there anything we can do to help inform/educate the members of the board who voted against it? If two people adopt where it IS legal (i.e. DC) would we still have any rights in VA (where we live) or only if we move to DC?

If you finalize an adoption in DC or another state, and both members of the couples are legal parents via adoption, those rights are recognized in Virginia through something called Full Faith and Credit--a federal law that requires states to fully recognize adoptions from other states. 

Thank you for your questions and comments.  I appreciate your interest in this topic.  If you want to learn more about opportunties to adopt visit  Have a great afternoon!

In This Chat
Haley Crum
Ellen Kahn
Ellen Kahn is the Director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Family Project, where she provides national leadership and expertise in public education and advocacy efforts to achieve full equality for LGBT families. Under Ellen’s leadership, the Family Project has launched three highly successful, innovative programs that promote fair and inclusive policies and practices; All Children—All Families; Welcoming Schools; and the Healthcare Equality Index. Ellen was formerly the Director of the Lesbian Services Program of Whitman-Walker Clinic where she developed innovative educational programs for gay men and lesbians considering parenthood, which serve hundreds of people each year. In addition, Ellen serves as President of the Board of Directors of Rainbow Families DC, the capital area’s support and education organization for LGBT-headed families. Ellen received her B.S. from Temple University and her M.S.S. from the Bryn Mawr College School of Social Work and Social Research. Ellen lives with her partner and their two daughters in Silver Spring, MD.
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