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Virginia debates adoptions by gay couples

Religious and social conservatives are squaring off with gay rights advocates over a proposed state-agency rule that would prohibit adoption agencies in Virginia from discriminating against prospective parents on the basis of sexual orientation.

The regulation under consideration by the Virginia Board of Social Services would apply anti-discrimination laws to adoption policies, preventing faith-based adoption agencies from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered couples.

Supporters say the proposed policy would help find needed homes for children in foster care.

“There’s currently over 5,500 children in the foster care system in Virginia that are either in homes or need to be placed in homes,” said Adam Sharp, who chairs the Young Democrats’ Family Caucus.

“Someone’s preferences as to whether or not a single person or a couple that’s not traditional is the ideal – that’s the wrong priority. The right priority is getting these children into homes and getting that stability.”

Currently, gay and lesbian couples in Virginia are legally able to adopt, but there are obstacles. For example, the state does not recognize second-parent adoption, which allows one member of a same-sex couple to adopt the other partner’s biological or adopted children. Moreover, many faith-based adoption agencies in Virginia do not allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt.

The state’s proposed policy would prohibit such discrimination.

“This provision does nothing more than ensure that a person who seeks to adopt or foster a child is not denied the opportunity to do so simply and solely because of who he or she is or what he or she believes,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, the state’s leading gay rights organization.

The proposal was initiated when Democrat Tim Kaine was governor. In January 2010, Republican Bob McDonnell took office.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, R-Manassas, has been one of the most vocal critics of the proposal. In an email, he urged his supporters to lobby McDonnell against the rule change.

“These changes may cause some church-run adoption agencies to discontinue their services in Virginia,” Marshall said. “They shouldn’t have to choose between violating their moral views or serving children in need of families.”

McDonnell said last week he opposes the proposal.

“I don’t think we ought to force Catholic Charities to make that part of their policy or other similarly situated groups,” he told reporters.

But the governor’s opinion may not be the deciding factor, said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, a lobbyist for Equality Virginia.

“The State Board of Social Services can, under state law, either choose to incorporate the governor’s suggestions in their final regulation, or to not,” Gastanaga said. “They have the final authority about what’s in the regulation.”

The proposed regulation was published on the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall website. The Board of Social Services accepted comments on the matter until April 1. The board received more than 1,000 comments – most of them opposed to the rule change. Some were titled “against adoption of children by homosexuals” and “Protect our Children Through Traditional Placements.”

The board will vote on the proposal next Wednesday [April 20].

During the comment period, Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation, a group that promotes “traditional values,” criticized the proposal.

Under existing state law, Cobb said, “Only married couples (one mother and one father, as decided by Virginia’s Marriage Amendment to the Constitution) or single individuals can adopt a child. The current proposal, which includes prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation, stands in direct opposition to the confines of the Code.”

Even if the rule passes, a number of things could happen.

“Once it’s published in final form, the governor does have the authority to suspend the implementation, and there’s also some provisions for the legislature to get involved in the action,” Gastanaga said. “We’re a long way from done here.”

What the Proposed Rule Says
The rule that has stirred controversy is buried in a 29,000-word document titled “Standards For Licensed Child-Placing Agencies.” You can find the document at http://snipurl.com/va_adopt .

The rule is under “Part IV, Program Statement.” Section B says:

B. The licensee shall prohibit acts of discrimination based on race, color, gender, national origin, age, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, or family status to:

1. Delay or deny a child’s placement; or

2. Deny an individual the opportunity to apply to become a foster or adoptive parent.


Community

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden raises admission $1

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s admission has increased by $1 across all categories. Admission is now $12 for adults; $11 for seniors ages 55 and older; and $8 for children ages 3–12. Admission remains free for children ages 3 and younger and for members.

The last price increase was in 2011, before the Garden consistently hosted Butterflies LIVE! (which is included with admission). > Read more.

Garden tails

The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.

Western Henrico Rotary helps fund Midwives For Haiti Jeep


Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.

The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.

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Entertainment

‘Top Chef’ finalist to open Willow Lawn restaurant

A finalist in the Bravo television show Top Chef is bringing one of his four restaurant chains to Henrico County.

Bryan Voltaggio, who was the runner-up of the sixth season of Top Chef, (finishing second to his brother, Michael) and his business partner, Hilda Staples, will open their third Family Meal restaurant, at Henrico's Willow Lawn shopping center. The restaurant is expected to open early next year. > Read more.

US Army Field Band to perform in Henrico Aug. 3

The United States Army Field Band will present a free public performance at Deep Run Park in Henrico on Sunday, Aug 3 at 3 p.m.

Members of the band are soldiers who also serve as “musical ambassadors of the Army” and perform for schools and communities nationwide.

The Concert Band will be performing along with the Soldiers’ Chorus. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


Get up and dance – square dance, that is – with the Tuckahoe Square Dance Club tonight! More musical events this weekend include family-friendly karaoke at Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House, the United States Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus Concert and the Henrico Teen Theatre Company’s production of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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