The Virginia House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill to remove conscience protections for child-placing agencies, prompting worry that the state’s Catholic adoption and foster care agencies could be forced to shut down because of their views on marriage.
HB 1932 would repeal a section of the Code of Virginia which reads, in part: “To the extent allowed by federal law, no private child-placing agency shall be required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in any placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.”
The current code also protects agencies from being denied an initial license or a renewal of their license, or from being denied a grant or contract because of their religious views about the definition of marriage. Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell signed the conscience protections into law in 2012.
The Virginia house passed the bill to repeal the protections by a 53-43 vote Feb. 3.
The Virginia Catholic Conference expressed alarm at the bill’s passage, warning that removing the conscience protections could threaten the work of the state’s Catholic adoption and foster care agencies by allowing the state to deny them licenses, grants, or contracts.
Virginia has three Catholic Charities agencies, all of which provide adoption and foster care services. There are more than 8,000 faith-based adoption agencies working with government bodies across the U.S.
“This bill would dismantle absolutely essential conscience protections Catholic Charities and other faith-based agencies rely on to do their high quality work to help children and families across Virginia,” the conference said in a Feb. 3 statement.
Religious agencies around the country are having to contend with state and local ordinances demanding that they match children and work with same-sex couples.