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Homosexual adoption: Judge backs church over freedom of conscience

Printer-friendly version A Leeds-based Roman Catholic adoption agency has won a legal fight to keep its Christian ethos to place children with a married mother and a father.

A Leeds-based Roman Catholic adoption agency has won a legal fight to keep its Christian ethos to place children with a married mother and a father.

Catholic Care, which serves the dioceses of Leeds, Middlesbrough, and Hallam, South Yorkshire, launched the legal action in an attempt to continue its work finding homes for children.

The charity, which provided adoption services to married couples only was seeking an exemption from the 2007 Sexual Orientation Regulations.  The regulations made it unlawful to discriminate on the ground of sexual orientation in the provision of goods or services to the public.

The ruling, issued on 17 March 2010 by a High Court Judge, was seen as landmark victory for freedom of religious conscience over the demands of equality legislation. 

Mr Justice Briggs said that because an exemption in the 2007 Sexual Orientation Regulations allowed homosexual charities to restrict their help to homosexuals, it was right that Catholic Care should also be allowed to discriminate in favour of married couples in keeping with its ethos.

He also said that, in practice, no homosexual couples would lose out, because the charity provided solely for children whom the state adoption system – which is open to same sex couples – had already tried but failed to help.

The Judge allowed the Catholic Care’s appeal and ordered the Charity Commission, which made the original decision against the charity, to reconsider.  The Charity Commission was ordered by the Judge to pay the legal costs of Catholic Care, which is linked to the Roman Catholic diocese of Leeds, unofficially estimated at more than £100,000.

Arthur Roche, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds, welcomed the ruling.  He said:

‘We look forward to producing evidence to the Charity Commission to support the position that we have consistently taken through this process that without being able to use this exemption children without families would be seriously disadvantaged.

‘Catholic Care has been providing specialist adoption services for over 100 years.  We have helped hundreds of children ... as well as offering ongoing and post-adoption support to families.’

Caritas Social Action Network, the umbrella group for Catholic care agencies, said an extremely important principle in co-operation between faith-based agencies and public authorities had been upheld.

‘By requiring the Charity Commission to review its decision, the court has upheld the legitimate freedom of charities to organise themselves in such a way that their activities reflect their religious ethos when justified in the public benefit, as we believe is the case in this instance,’ the group said.

Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill, however, which Labour wants to push through before the election, will remove the exemption in the 2007 Regulations that was the basis of Catholic Care's victory.

Gerald Warner, a Daily Telegraph columnist, wrote that the Catholic Care victory does not represent the stance of some leading Conservatives.

‘... the last surviving Catholic adoption agency in England, has won the right to continue its work, thanks to a High Court decision – and emphatically not thanks to ‘Conservative’ leader David Cameron, who voted for the tyrannical regulations that forced the other agencies out of business because they could not in conscience place children with same-sex couples.  Dave’s infamous stride through the division lobby to vote down religious freedom was part of his grandstanding support for the Stonewall agenda,’ he wrote.

Homosexual organisations expressed bitter condemnation of the Judge.

Jonathan Finney, of Stonewall, said:

‘It is unthinkable that anyone engaged in delivering any kind of public service should be given licence to pick and choose service users on the basis of individual prejudice.’

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society and homosexual ‘rights’ activist, said:

‘It is unfortunate that the court has enabled Catholic Care to exploit what was obviously an error in the drafting of the equality legislation.  The loophole this created was never intended to be used this way.’

Andrea Minichiello Williams, Director of CCFON and the Christian Legal Centre said: ‘This is a great result and a step in the right direction.  It's upsetting that the other adoption agencies have been forced to close, but this ruling will help them reopen if they so wish.

‘The ruling supports Christian groups which want to operate freely and according to traditional values with regard to the nature of family.’

The Times



Spectator (Commentary)