Virginia's Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee has advanced a measure giving faith-based adoption agencies the right to deny placement of a child if doing so would violate the group's religious beliefs, including opposition to homosexuality.
The "Conscience Clause" also bars the Virginia Department of Social Services from denying or revoking an agency's license for refusing to place a child in a gay couple's care.
Del. Joe Morrissey, D-Henrico, called the measure "mean-spirited" and encouraged lawmakers to reject the bill.
"It strikes me as slightly more than outrageous," he said. "It's hurtful, it's mean-spirited, it's un-Christian."
But the bill's sponsor, Del. Gilbert, R-Woodstock, said the bill was necessary to defend religious freedom.
He noted that in December, the Virginia Board of Social Services adopted regulations that would permit adoption agencies to deny services to prospective parents based on gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation and family status.
"That practice is as tenuous as whoever might be adopting the regulations in the future," Gilbert said.