Last edited: February 14, 2005

Virginia Officials Deny Discrimination in Adoption Case

Washington Blade, June 4, 2002
Washington, DC

By Rhonda Smith

Lawyers for the Commonwealth of Virginia denied any wrongdoing in their response May 22 to a lawsuit a lesbian filed against the state’s Department of Social Services as part of her ongoing effort to adopt a child.

Linda Kaufman of Arlington alleges in her complaint that because she is a lesbian, Virginia officials refused for two years to consider an adoption application a licensed social services agency in Washington, D.C., planned to submit on her behalf.

In 1992, Kaufman had successfully adopted a son from a D.C. agency using the same procedure. Her complaint, filed in December, states that Virginia officials have ignored her efforts to adopt a second child using that state’s procedure.

Lawyers from Virginia’s Office of the Attorney General said in their response that Kaufman’s complaint has no legal basis because Kaufman had not actually submitted the required information to the agency, and the agency could not "begin to evaluate the proposed placement until that information is received."

In Kaufman’s complaint, she alleges that Lutheran Social Services contacted the Virginia Department of Social Services and advised officials there that the D.C. agency wished to submit an adoption application on her behalf.

"Virginia Department of Social Services refused to consider an adoption application on Kaufman’s behalf because she is a lesbian," the complaint states.

In their response, lawyers for Virginia said state social services officials "have no record of the contact referenced therein between Lutheran Social Services and the [Virginia Department of Social Services]."

Timothy Murtaugh, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, refused this week to respond to questions from the Blade about the case. Instead, he submitted to the Blade a copy of the seven-page legal response and said that would serve as a reply to all questions regarding the case.

One of Kaufman’s lawyers, Gregory R. Nevins of the Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund’s Atlanta office, said the case most likely will proceed to trial at some future point.

"Essentially, [lawyers representing Virginia] are not necessarily taking a stand on what their policy is," he said. "They are saying that they haven’t communicated the policy we said they did. Their response sidesteps the crucial issue."

Kaufman, a 51-year-old Episcopal priest, filed a lawsuit in December against the Virginia Department of Social Services. Her complaint in part states that the state agency’s refusal was part of an ongoing practice by the agency to refuse to consider any out-of-state adoption application on behalf of a prospective adoptive parent who is lesbian or gay.

State officials recently asked an Arlington County Circuit Court judge to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Kaufman had never submitted an application to the Department of Social Services and that it would be processed once it is received.

Kaufman’s complaint states that Lutheran Social Services officials have said they would not risk matching a child with Kaufman and instilling in that child the belief that he or she is going to be adopted "when it has been told by defendants that they will reject the placement under their discriminatory policy."

On May 3, Arlington County Circuit Court Judge Joanne F. Alper denied a motion that Virginia Assistant Attorney General Susan M. Davis filed to have Kaufman’s complaint dismissed. She ordered lawyers for Virginia to respond to the complaint within 20 days.

"Since November 2000, nothing has happened," Alper said of Kaufman’s efforts to adopt a child. "The state government agency [has] simply taken no action. And when a suit is filed, the state says there is not a controversy because [Kaufman] hasn’t submitted an application."

Alper described this as a "Catch-22" situation and said there appeared to be "deliberate action" by Virginia officials to prevent Kaufman from submitting an adoption application.

Officials with Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner’s office said in May that any unofficial state government policy that might have prevented Kaufman from adopting a child when Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III was in office would not be an obstacle today. Warner, a Democrat, was elected governor of Virginia in November and took office in January.

Charles Ingram, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Social Services in Richmond, said at that time that sexual orientation would not be a factor considered in determining whether Kaufman could adopt a child. He declined to say whether this had been an unofficial policy the department enforced in previous years.

Qualls, in Warner’s office, referred questions about whether the state’s sodomy and cohabitation statutes would be used to block gay Virginians from adopting in that state to Attorney General Jerry Kilgore’s office. Kilgore, a Republican elected in November, is a social conservative who has not been supportive of gay civil rights.

The sodomy, or "crimes against nature," statute prohibits oral and anal sex between heterosexual and homosexual couples in Virginia.

The cohabitation statute makes it illegal for unmarried adults to live together in an "open and lascivious manner."

Joe Price, another lawyer representing Kaufman and counsel for Virginians for Justice, a statewide gay group, said government and court officials have referenced these two laws in the past as proof that gay men and lesbians in Virginia are unfit to be parents.

"We’re looking for a declaration that they won’t engage in this type of discrimination in any case," Price said.

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