Thursday, February 9, 2012

Adoption, Discrimination and Conscience

As the Virginia State government moved vigorously to the right following the mid-term elections, it is perhaps no surprise that it has chosen to move aggressively.  For years, it was constrained by the counterbalancing force of a moderate Democrat in the State House, or a moderate majority in the Senate.

This is no longer the case.  Absent that counterweight, things in Richmond have gone precisely the way you'd expect.  Folks on the right are releasing all that pent-up paleoconservative tension, as drunk with freedom as the child of helicopter parents in those first few blurry weeks of college.   And Lord have mercy, have they gone on a legislative bender.

They're pitching out new laws right and left.  Or right and further right, to be more accurate.

They would permit multiple simultaneous handgun purchases, much to the great delight of our friends in the Zetas drug cartel.   They would mandate medically unnecessary ultrasounds for any woman considering an abortion, because health care mandates are what American Conservatism is all about.

And now, there's a bill...likely to pass...that would explicitly allow private faith-based adoption services agencies to refuse to work with couples who don't meet the standards of their faith tradition.  This would include agencies who receive funding from the state.

This is being described as a bill that would protect the consciences of faith-based providers, and is generally understood as being a Trojan Horse for keeping children away from gay couples.  If you believe that homosexuality is inherently sinful, or so the not-really-spoken argument goes, then you shouldn't be required to place children with same-sex couples.  That is, rationalizations about preserving freedom notwithstanding, the sole, entire, and only purpose of this bill.

Understand that this has nothing to do with protecting the child from abuse or neglect.  Under federal law, adoption agencies are required to do significant background checks on parents and individuals who seek to adoption a child.  The effect of this bill is to permit discrimination against individuals whose beliefs do not mesh with the agency.  Federal law forbids racial discrimination in adoption, but is silent on the subject of religious discrimination.

Having known gay couples who have adopted kids, and who are wonderful parents, this bill bothers the bejabbers out of me on that level.  It is woefully wrong on that front.  But my issues with it go deeper.

Sure, it's meant to be anti-gay, but in being coy about it and couching itself in what it imagines is the language of freedom, it's more than that.  Reading the text of the bill as written, it is also potentially anti-Muslim.  Or antisemitic.  Or anti-mainline Protestant.  Or anti-atheist.  Or anti-Christian.  

Let's imagine for a moment that the state-licensed and funded agency in question is run by a literalist Christian group.  As far as they are concerned, failure to believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God is a sure path to Aitch-EE-Double-Toothpicks.  

Now imagine for a moment that a Bible-believing woman is married to a Christian-ish man who's not quite so sure about what he believes, and they find a child through this group.  The state-funded agency in question would now be perfectly within its legal rights to stop the adoption process mid-cycle if they feel that such a family might not raise a child in keeping with its values.  "It's your husband.  We just can't risk little Tyler going to hell, Ma'am."  

Again, it's not that they'd be bad parents.  Just that they'd be the wrong sort of people.  What of a conservative Catholic agency that receives state funds and licensing?  Could such a group refuse a child to a nondenominational couple on the basic of their beliefs?  Under this law, the answer is yes.  

Given that conscience, at its heart, means "knowing together," the internalization of a shared ethos, does such a bill really represent conscience across the entirety of the state?  Does it represent our shared statewide understanding of what is in the best interest of children?  Does it even represent what the Apostle Paul would have described as "doing what is right in the eyes of all?" 

No.  The answer to those rhetorical questions is of course not.   But that's the way Richmond rolls these days.