Religious leaders, voters weigh in on Virginia gay-adoption rules

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Hundreds of opponents and supporters weighed in on proposed regulations that would allow state-licensed groups to turn down prospective adoptive and foster parents because of their sexual orientation.

The Virginia Board of Social Services opened a 30-day public comment period last month after gay-rights advocates complained about new regulations that were approved in April that didn't bar discrimination based on sexual orientation, political beliefs, age, physical disability and family status. Critics said the board stripped the protections from the proposed regulations without much public notice, and that the board discussed the issue in closed session without opportunity for public consideration.

Equality Virginia, the ACLU and other groups say the state should restore the protections, Roman Catholic and other church leaders say organizations say they should not be forced to violate their religious beliefs.

Virginia allows married couples and single people to adopt or become foster parents, regardless of sexual orientation, but bars unmarried couples -- gay or straight -- from doing so. Then-Gov. Timothy Kaine's Democratic administration added the anti-discrimination provision in 2009, but it didn't become a flashpoint for public debate until this year, when conservative legislators and groups complained.

The agency staff will give the board a summary of the comments after the comment period ends.

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