Virginia Officials Deny Discrimination in Adoption Case
June 4, 2002
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
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
"Virginia Department of Social Services refused to consider an
adoption application on Kaufman’s behalf because she is a lesbian," the
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
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
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
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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