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Proposed Adoption Rule Change Riles Social Conservatives

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The new language would prohibit delaying or denying someone the opportunity to become an adoptive parent based on things such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.

It would not change existing policy that prohibits unmarried couples from adopting children, however. Given that gay couples still cannot legally marry in Virginia, whether the revised policy could actually be implemented is not known.

Kelly Schlageter knows a lot about Virginia's adoption rules. She and her partner Paula actually moved to Maryland recently, just so Paula could legally become mother to their twins.

But she admits for her, the new language changes little, since she and Paula couldn't have married in Virginia.

"That's right," Schlageter says. "This is definitely semantics at this point."

Despite this uncertainty, faith-based groups say are still fighting the measure. The change would force them to choose between violating their beliefs or getting out of providing adoption services altogether.

The Family Foundation's Victoria Cobb told the Washington Post last week that adoption agencies, as private entities, should have the right to choose adoptive parents based on their beliefs.

But Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, with Equality Virginia, says while faith-based groups are allowed, for instance, to place restrictions on who they hire based on beliefs, adoption is different.

"You can't approve an adoption without the imprimatur of the state through a court-approved court order," she says.

Gastanaga also points out that the new language would not change state law, only provide framework for how it should be applied.

Republican Delegate Bob Marshall of Manassas, a strong opponent of gay adoptive parents, says that's another reason the change doesn't make sense to him.

"If it doesn't change anything," Marshall says, "why is there a regulation being issued -- to change a policy or bring about a policy that's never happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia?"

He also believes the language, if approved, represents the state sticking its nose where it doesn't belong. Churches have been aiding adoptions for two thousand years, he says.

"This is an act of charity, it's commanded by the New Testament, and it should be protected by the Virginia statute of religious freedom," Marshall says. "They're going down the wrong path."

The Governor has until Saturday to tell the State social services board whether they should approve the rule change. The board, however, can choose to ignore his recommendation. The board is supposed to make its decision on the adoption language by April 20.

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