Churches Unite Over Adoption Row

The Church of England has backed the Catholic Church in its bid to be exempt from laws on adoption by gay couples. Catholic leaders in England and Wales say its teaching prevented its agencies placing children with homosexuals and they will close if bound by the rules.

{mosimage}The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Dr Rowan Williams and John Sentamu have written to the prime minister. They say “rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well-meaning”.

The Equality Act, due to come into effect in England, Wales and Scotland in April, outlaws discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the basis of sexual orientation.

The archbishops said many people who do voluntary work are motivated by religious beliefs. They point out exceptions have already been made for those whose conscience dictates they cannot take part in certain work, such as NHS doctors unwilling to perform abortions.

“In legislating to protect and promote the rights of particular groups the government is faced with the delicate but important challenge of not thereby creating the conditions within which others feel their rights to have been ignored or sacrificed, or in which the dictates of personal conscience are put at risk,” they said.

Anglican Priest Father Martin Reynolds, from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement is a long term foster carer. He told the BBC there was no proof growing up in a gay family was bad for a child. “There have been massive studies in America and elsewhere of the impact of growing up in gay families – maybe not always adopted families, very often they’re children of the families themselves – and the evidence is, would you believe it, there’s no more harm and no more good than in a gay family then there is anybody else’s family.”

The row over whether Catholic adoption agencies should be exempt from the change in the law is said to have split the Cabinet.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, who is Catholic, is reported to be pushing for an exemption. Tony Blair was trying to find a way to address “the different concerns” of Catholics and gay rights groups, his official spokesman has said.

But the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, told the BBC if society takes the view it does not discriminate against homosexuals, people could not be given exclusions on grounds of religion.

Backbencher Angela Eagle, a member of Labour’s Parliamentary Committee, said: “We can’t have exemptions in law because it gets us into terrible precedents which can then go into other areas of law.”

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said many cabinet members also appeared not to be prepared to concede on the issue. He said the situation represented another “clash of principles” in the wake of last year’s faith schools protest as very few gay people were likely use the services of a Catholic adoption agency.

The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, has denied claims by secular and gay-rights activists who have accused him of using “blackmail” in a bid to secure exemptions. The Catholic Church said it wants to continue its policy of referring gay couples to other adoption agencies.