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.


  1. "Does it represent our shared statewide understanding of what is in the best interest of children?"

    The problem with that statement is there is no such thing as a "statewide" understanding of what's best for children. There simply isn't. If you did believe in a literal, horrible, "Aitch-EE-Double-Toothpicks," and were in the child adoption field you would see this bill as a God send. (no pun intended) The point is you disagree with a religious group. Period.

    Whether or not religious organizations should get state funding is another issue altogether. Does disagreeing with their ideology make is okay to cut funding? Then which lawmaker’s ideology is fit for a statewide understanding of how to raise children? Like it or not, everyone is “indoctrinating their children” to someone else.
    One stat I found says that about 4% of children adopted are adopted by gay couples. It's a relatively small percentage. I'm not saying their maltreatment is more forgivable because of their minority status. Simply, there are plenty of organizations for adoptions, forcing the ones blatantly run out of religious conviction is barking up a wrong tree to begin with.

  2. I disagree with a religious group? Where would you get that idea? ;0)

    It is a conundrum, Stephanie. On the one hand, you don't want to force a set of beliefs on anyone, particularly through legislation or litigation. That would represent a violation of our freedom to believe as we so choose. Private individuals and nongovernmental organizations need to be at liberty to believe as they wish, and to act on those beliefs. That includes folks who hold to a set of ethics that are different from our own.

    The state funding issue is a deeper and more challenging one, and it is a significant motivation for this legislation. Here, I'd respectfully suggest that the issue is best not settled by arguments rooted in moral relativism, or suggesting that discrimination against a group is less pernicious if that group is a significant minority.

    If a faith based organization provides a service that is 1) rooted in the tenets of its faith and 2) open only to those individuals who share those convictions, is that group serving the public interest?

    Or would such a service an action by the faithful and for the faithful...a religious act, protected under the Constitution but also Constitutionally outside the bounds of what should be materially supported by the State?

    I'd say the latter, because the nature of that action seems self-evidently within the bounds of faith-expression. Do you see it differently?

  3. If the question of whether or not a charity can receive government funding is based on their ability to do good, I say yes. They should be funded.

    If the religious conviction drives these people to do good then we can't expect to take that away and still gain the benefits they bring to society. I think the sheer volume of religious organizations taking on the well being of children is something to take into account. These are Americans taking care of American children and like most any social justice group, according to their beliefs.

    Pragmatically speaking, as long as there are a variety of groups with at least access to equal government funding I have no problem with it. They are servicing society in what they do.