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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

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.

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

New Italian restaurant opens in Short Pump

Charlottesville's Bella’s Restaurant recently opened a location in Short Pump Village, at 11408 West Broad Street. The restaurant is owned by Valeria Biesnti, a native of Rome who arrived in the U.S. at age 21 and later became a U.S. citizen. With her restaurants, Bisenti has sought to create an ambiance that welcomes diners in a casual setting, like her favorites from her hometown. > Read more.

Henrico native to appear on Travel Channel show


A Henrico native will appear on the third episode of the Travel Channel's new grilling competition series “American Grilled.”

The episode, filmed in Charlottesville, will premier July 16 at 9 p.m. and feature Glen Allen-native Rex Holmes, a patent lawyer who operates http://SavoryReviews.com a blo,g centered around tasty recipes and BBQ.

The show features hardcore grilling enthusiasts from across the country going head-to-head for a chance to compete for a $10,000 cash prize and bragging rights when they are crowned the ultimate “grill master.” > Read more.

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The Short Pump Ruritan Club is seeking crafters for its 24th annual craft show, which will be held Saturday, Oct. 25, at Short Pump Middle School, 4701 Pouncey Tract Road.… Full text

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