Greg Greeley grew up in a large family and knew that one day he would want to start his own.
"When I decided to start a family, and began reaching out to adopt, I was a single father," said Greeley, who moved to Virginia in 1987. He was in the Air Force and stationed at the Pentagon.
As a single, gay man, Greeley faced many challenges before successfully navigating the state's adoption process.
He started the process in 2001. A year later, after locating a progressive child-placement agency in Virginia, he adopted his first child from Ukraine.
"It was a hard process and I was lucky," said Greeley, who lives in Arlington and now has a second adopted son from El Salvador. "The first question I asked each agency was, 'Do you work with single fathers?' I called a dozen agencies, and only one said yes. It’s amazing to have that many doors shut in your face over and over again. No one asked, 'Would you be a good father? What is your background?' None of it was based on any of those things that would be important to determine is this a good placement for a child. It was just 'No, we don’t work with single fathers.' "
He continued: "It’s a good thing to make sure that people are good parents. But it’s terrible when people won’t even consider you. They won't even look at why, they’ll just tell you no."
The process is about to get much more difficult.
Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected to soon sign a bill that would add a 'conscience clause' to state adoption laws that would give private child-placement agencies, even those that receive state funding, the legal right to deny services to prospective parents if they felt the placement would go against their written moral or religious beliefs.
The measure also would prohibit the state from denying grants, contracts or license renewals to agencies that exercise that right.
The bill has drawn sharp criticism from several state legislators, along with gay and lesbian residents and advocates, who view the measure as sanctioning legal discrimination.
"This bill gives license for state funds to be used for religious discrimination," said state Sen. Adam Ebbin in a phone interview. "The question is should agencies that recieve tax payer dollars be able to discriminate?"
Ebbin, who is openly gay, opposed the bill in the Senate, which approved it last month 22-17.
The Family Foundation, a conservative group that supported the bill, called the approval a 'monumental victory' for religious freedom on its website, saying that it will protect religious groups and allow them to act in accordance with their values.
Neither the Family Foundation nor the bill's sponsor, Republican state Sen. Jeff McWaters of Virginia Beach, returned phone calls or written requests to discuss their support.
The current structure of Virginia's foster care system makes distinguishing between the public and private spheres almost impossible. In Virginia, a network of 120 public child-placement agencies and 70 private agencies help the state look after the 4,407 children currently being cared for by the state's foster care system.
"Our departments often contract with private agencies for various aspects of the placement process," said Eileen Guertler, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Social Services. "Many private agencies do wonderful work and play a vital role for children in our system."
While many private agencies certainly provide valuable services to some of the state's most vulnerable children, introducing morality into the legal process of adoption will make the already difficult process almost impossible for some parents hoping to adopt.
Highlighting the estimated 1,700 adopted children and 300 foster children being raised by single gay and lesbian parents in Virginia, Gates predicted that the new law would have negative economic and social consequences in this state by barring otherwise-qualified prospective parents from adopting solely on a moral basis.
"I think a lot of people who could make good parents won’t have the opportunity to do that, and it's sad," said Greeley, who shared his story before a Senate subcommittee.
"There are lots of choices you’ll make through life and in many cases you’ll think back and question. For me, the decision to adopt was never one I’ve looked back on."