‘No Opt-Out’ For Church Adoption

The Roman Catholic Church is not expected to win an exemption from new anti-discrimination laws, following the row over adoption by gay couples. Its agencies are demanding an opt-out, so that they are not required to place children with homosexual people.

{mosimage}Reports that Tony Blair has “caved in” to Cabinet members who are against an exemption have been described as “ridiculous” by Downing Street. But No 10 has suggested agencies may be allowed time to adapt or close. Tony Blair has met Labour MPs over the issue and an announcement is expected next week. The Equality Act, due to come into effect in England, Scotland and Wales in April, outlaws discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the basis of sexual orientation.

Catholic leaders say its teachings prevent its agencies placing children with homosexuals and they will close if bound by the rules. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of Catholics in England and Wales, has denied claims that he is using “blackmail”. The Church of England has backed the Catholic Church in its attempts.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, have written to Tony Blair to argue that “rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well-meaning”.

Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman, the latest minister to voice an opinion on the issue, has said there was no scope for exemptions to the legislation. “We will stay true to our commitment in tackling sexual discrimination in terms of sexual orientation,” she told the New Statesman magazine. “You can either be against discrimination or you can allow for it. You can’t be a little bit against discrimination.”

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, who is a Catholic, is reported to be pushing for an exemption.

But Labour MP Stephen Pound, who is also Catholic, does not support a religious exemption but believes the adoption row has put Ms Kelly in a difficult decision. “We seem to be living in a world where people who have strongly held views are somehow derided for that,” he told the BBC.

“In Ruth’s case there is demonstrably a conflict. Is it right for us to expect someone to abandon everything they believe in because of the prevailing majority view? Does she abandon her ambition or her faith? The National Secular Society said that allowing an exemption for the Church would open the “floodgates for a never-ending series of demands”.