Live for Another Day

Well, they did it anyway.

Some folks, good folks, tried to point out that SB 349 had become a monstrosity–a bad bill being made worse through the legislative process–but there was no listening. The Senate passed it today, 22-18 (two Democrats joined 20 Republicans).  Governor McDonnell will sign it.

The result: children currently in Virginia’s foster care system as well as those who will become part of it–wards of the state–now will have fewer options for adoption. Good homes will be denied to youngsters who deserve to live in families who want them–simply because that home is led by two men or two women. And youth who are gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual, or who even exhibit behaviors that some will interpret as being “that way,” won’t get placed anywhere–just because of the beliefs of some groups (mostly religious groups, but under this new law practicing this sort of discrimination will be permitted by others as well).

What do we do in the face of this raw determination to punish children, to deny to the very most

Dr. King declaration at the King Memorial in Washington, D.C.

vulnerable among us the protection and nurture of true family life? Of course, many foster homes are maintained by really good people, people who love and care for their charges–but it is not the same. All children deserve loving, permanent homes and families. And this new law applies to foster care as well as adoption. I worry that we will run out of foster homes–then what?

What are we to do? Fight on, of course. Keep talking, keep organizing, keep changing hearts and minds.

Of course, this battle is part of a larger one to grant full human rights to all Virginians–lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Virginians can’t even get included in the State Human Rights Code! But this also is a struggle to protect our children, ALL our children.

What is really amazing is that a majority of Virginians don’t agree with the Senate (or the House, which is enacting the same language) perpetuating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender indentity. And few Virginians I know want to deny a loving home to any child. The General Assembly is listening to a narrow band of opinion and thinking that no one is paying any attention.

We must change that. I intend to write my Senator, my Delegate, the Times-Dispatch, the Governor, too–we must not let them think that no one cares. Or that we have given up, or given in.

No way. This will not stand forever. For now, yes. Forever? No.

God will not be mocked. God’s children will not be cast aside, thrown to the side of the road just because some people can’t see other people as fully human.

Doing a Hard Thing in Order to Stop a Bad Thing

Sometimes you have to do something you don’t want to do.

VA State Senator A. Donald McEachin

That is the predicament our good friend, SenatorDonald McEachin, is in with regard to SB 349. And he is joined by another good friend, SenatorAdam Ebbin, and several others.

As originally introduced, SB 349 was intended to “protect” faith-based agencies engaged in adoption from being “forced” to place children in adoptive homes of lesbian or gay Virginians. That was bad enough.

But as often happens when a majority gets geared up and thinks it can do just about anything, this bad bill has become a true nightmare.

I call it the Child Endangerment Act.

SB 349 no longer applies only to faith-based agencies. The bill now applies to all private licensed agencies.

SB 349 no longer applies only to adoption. It now applies to foster care as well—children who are wards of the state and under the state’s direct protection.

SB 349 contains the broadest immunity clause I think I have ever seen—the language protects any private agency providing foster care and adoption services from “any claim for damages” based on what they say are morally (see below) or religiously motivated child placement decisions (thanks to Equality Virginia for making this point very strongly).

SB 349 may pre-empt state laws and licensing rules now in effect, such as the rule that foster parents must agree not to use corporal

VA State Senator Adam Ebbin

punishment. (again, thank you, Equality Virginia)

SB 349 sets new criteria for agencies to base their decisions—not only religious views but also moral convictions. The only requirement seems to be that the criteria must be written. They need not have a basis in any religion.

So, this far-reaching bill must be stopped, or at least limited. We cannot stand by and let thousands of Virginia children be placed at risk—all to satisfy the desire of some to continue to receive state dollars for child care but no state oversight to make sure the children are safe. And we have to try to protect ALL children and ALL families.

Thus, Senators McEachin and Ebbin, and their allies in the State Senate, find themselves in the awkward position of having to offer amendments that contradict their own beliefs. For example, they will offer an amendment to limit the bill’s effect to faith-based agencies. Neither of them support this idea, but they do want to do two things: get the bill’s supporters on record as to whether they really only want to protect these agencies or if they seek to do more under the guise of protecting these agencies, and second, if all else fails, to limit the effect of this bad bill.

It is a hard call, but sometimes you have to do something you don’t want to do in order to stop something worse.

People of faith—all faiths—know about this conundrum. We often face having to live deeply held convictions in a world where many follow other paths, and we have to navigate complex situations.

For me, the most provocative example in modern times is the participation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a plot to kill Hitler. An avowed pacifist, Bonhoeffer realized that his belief that Hitler needed to be stopped before more were killed required him to act, even against his own deeply held moral principles.

This situation, of course, does not rise to that level, and yet, putting children at this kind of risk is serious, indeed I find it unconscionable. This bill was originally tagged as “Conscience Clause” legislation—to allow religious beliefs to trump public policy.

To be clear, I do not support that approach, even narrowly defined, because the only criteria that anyone should use in the placement of children is “the best interest of the child.” Senators Ebbin and McEachin each offered bills to do that. They were killed in committee, and this bill, SB 349, by Senator McWaters was approved by the Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee on an 8-7 vote last Friday. As the committee reworked the bill, it became this monstrosity.

There is no conscience in it, as far as I can see—only a desire to let private agencies do whatever they want with our children.

We must stop this, before it is too late. Call your Senator now!

And when you can, drop Senators McEachin and Ebbin a line and thank them. They deserve our praise for doing hard things in order to stop a really bad thing.

Are 216 Guns Enough?

I know I am supposed to feel safer. The more guns there are, the safer I am, right?

Well, I don’t feel safer. I feel more at risk, as Virginia lawmakers repeal a law that was intended for Virginia to stop being a gun center of the South.

The law, a prime project of then Governor Doug Wilder, limits handgun purchases to one per month. The bill has been on the books since 1993; that means that handgun buyers have been able to purchase 216 guns in that time. I hope that is enough.

Now, as I understand it, they will be able to purchase that many each year. Or more. Oh sure, they will have to be checked and that is good.

But who needs all these guns?

And there is more. One bill that advanced easily to a final Senate passage as early as today would eliminate the right of local governments to require that applicants for concealed handgun permits submit fingerprints. Another restricts the questions that may be asked of firearm purchasers.

I don’t know what Jesus would make of all this gun mania. But I do know he said to love our enemies. I don’t remember him advocating killing them.

I am glad police have firearms, all that they need. And the military, too. I know that contradicts Jesus. But at least they have to be trained and follow rules and be accountable for how they use their weapons.

I don’t have the same confidence about all these gun buyers.

I don’t know about you, but I know I am nervous, maybe even a little scared. I don’t want us to return to the days when, in the words of Delegate Joe Morrissey, “we were the gun capital of the South.”

Oh, boy.