By Matthew A. Ward
PORTSMOUTH, Va (Reuters) - Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is poised to sign so-called "conscience clause" legislation protecting faith-based adoption agencies that deny placements based on religious beliefs such as opposition to homosexuality, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
The measure won approval in both chambers of the state legislature, with the Senate passing it on Tuesday in a final 22-18 vote. The Republican-dominated House of Delegates gave its approval in a 71-28 vote earlier this month.
The measure would put into state law a controversial Board of Social Services decision last year to allow state-licensed, private adoption agencies to consider sexual orientation, age, disability, gender, family status and political beliefs during placements.
It would free those agencies from considering or consenting to foster care or adoption placements that violate their written religious or moral convictions or policies.
McDonnell, a Republican, will sign the bill into law, spokeswoman Taylor Thornley said in an email to Reuters.
Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish said the measure allows private agencies to use taxpayer funds to discriminate against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
"We think this bill is very far reaching, and we think this bill is very unnecessary," Parrish said.
Virginia Catholic Conference Executive Director Jeff Caruso, meanwhile, rejected claims of discrimination, saying the legislation "affirms the great work" of private adoption agencies.
"The bill does not change adoption or foster care law in any way, and it doesn't change who can or cannot adopt or be foster parents," he said.
"It really just clarifies the status quo, which is that private agencies can't be forced to participate in placements that violate their beliefs."
A Facebook post by The Family Foundation hailed Tuesday's Senate vote as "a huge victory for religious liberty!"
According to the UCLA School of Law Williams Institute, single Virginians who are gay or lesbian are raising an estimated 1,700 adopted and 300 foster children, and 40,000 lesbians and gay men in Virginia may be prospective adoptive parents.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tim Gaynor)