RICHMOND, Va. — Private, faith-based adoption agencies would be allowed to deny placement of a child if doing so would violate their religious beliefs, including opposition to homosexuality, under legislation advanced by a Virginia House panel.

The Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee voted 14-5 Tuesday to send Del. Todd Gilbert's "conscience clause" bill to the House floor. Gilbert, R-Woodstock, said his bill protects religious freedom.

The Virginia Board of Social Services in December adopted regulations that allow discrimination based on personal factors, including gender, age, religion disability, sexual orientation and family status. Gilbert said it's important to convert those regulations into state law.

Jeff Caruso, representing several Roman Catholic organizations, spoke in favor of the bill. Del. Joe Morrissey, D-Henrico, tried to ask Caruso what's wrong with placing a child with "a loving gay couple," but the committee chairman intervened.

"For him to have to defend why his church has such a belief, I don't think that's appropriate," said Del. Robert C. Orrock Sr., R-Spotsylvania.

Morrissey urged the committee 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."