Legislators and media pundits in Washington, D.C., continue to obsess over the birth control mandate in the new health care law and whether church-related institutions like hospitals and colleges must provide contraceptive coverage.
While that’s going, a quieter tussle in Virginia has captured fewer national headlines. That’s a shame because a debate over adoption by same-sex couples in that state is perhaps a better indicator of where the Religious Right wants to take this country.
The Virginia legislature is firmly in the hands of far-right lawmakers, and Gov. Robert McDonnell, is a graduate of TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Regent University. A dark cloud of Religious Right-style conservatism hangs over the Old Dominion.
A band of extreme legislators decided to start with adoptions. Virginia, like a lot of states, contracts with private agencies to facilitate adoptions. Many of these agencies are “faith based.” The old rule was that they had to serve all potential parents and apply neutral criteria to the process. An agency would investigate a person or couple wanting to adopt and reject only those who failed some objective standard – they had a criminal background, their references didn’t work out, they appeared unfit to raise a child, etc.
Under new rules that are expected to become law soon, faith-based adoption agencies will be permitted to deny services to anyone who fails to meet their theological litmus test. In other words, a couple could pass a criminal background check with flying colors, receive top marks from every reference, show proof of steady employment – and still be denied the right to adopt because they are gay.
This type of bigotry, while obnoxious, might be permissible in a purely privately funded agency run by a church. But as I said, most of these adoption agencies operate in a quasi-public fashion on behalf of the government, and they receive taxpayer funding.
State Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat from Roanoke, got it exactly right when he said, "You have a right to exercise religion as you see fit, but you don’t have a right to impose it on someone else using state dollars.”
And, while this is primarily a fight over adoption by gay couples, no one should think it stops there. The new Virginia policy is much broader than that. It allows faith-based agencies to deny adoption services to anyone who offends the agency’s religious or moral beliefs. Let’s say you’re straight but you and your spouse are deemed not religious enough, or they don’t like the fact that one of you had a previous marriage. You’re out the door too.
The Religious Right/Catholic hierarchy theory on this is simple: They want it all. They want access to your tax money to provide various social services. They want as little accountability or oversight as possible. (No accountability at all is their preference.) They demand the right to run the programs as they see fit according to their theology. They even insist that this is a constitutional right and that any attempt to impose another perspective on them – no matter widespread the consensus – is a violation of their “religious freedom.”
The more “accommodation” these groups win, the more they will demand – and the more rights of everyone else they will trample on.