White Plains, NY — Members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators are urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to reject a proposed rule change that would allow foster care and adoption agencies to deny services to same-sex couples.

The proposed change would remove protections against discrimination relating to agencies receiving taxpayer funds that were first put in place in 2016.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Legislator Kitley Covill (D-Bedford, Lewisboro, Mount Kisco, North Salem, Pound Ridge, Somers) wrote, "This could potentially lead to agencies putting religious beliefs above the needs of children in their care, which would have a dire impact on children and families involved in the foster care system." (See letter here.)

The letter was signed by 14 legislators, including Leg. Covill. The other signers are Board Chair Ben Boykin (D-White Plains, Scarsdale, Harrison), Vice Chair Alfreda Williams (D -Elmsford, Greenburgh, Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown), Majority Leader Catherine Parker (D-Harrison, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Rye) and Majority Whip MaryJane Shimsky (D -Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, Edgemont, Hartsdale, Hastings-on-Hudson, Irvington) as well as legislators Margaret Cunzio (C-Mount Pleasant, North Castle, Pleasantville), Mike Kaplowitz (D-New Castle, Somers, Yorktown), Nancy Barr (D Harrison, Port Chester, Rye Brook), Catherine Borgia (D-Briarcliff Manor, Cortlandt, Croton-on-Hudson, Ossining, Peekskill), Damon Maher (D-Eastchester, New Rochelle, Tuckahoe), Terry Clements (D-New Rochelle, Pelham, Pelham Manor), Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon), David Tubiolo (R-Yonkers, Mount Vernon) and Chris Johnson (D-Yonkers).

Noting that there are more than 400,000 children in the foster care system in the U.S., and more than 114,000 awaiting adoption, Covill wrote, "This rule will shrink the already insufficient pool of families for children in need of a loving home."

Data indicate that same-sex couples with children are far more likely to adopt a child, the letter notes. "A system that allows discrimination may have a chilling effect and prevent loving families from entering the foster care system," Covill wrote. "Qualified parents willing to take on such a huge commitment to a foster child should not have any barriers to this commitment."

The Department of Health and Human Services is accepting public comments on the proposed rule change through December 19.