‘No Exemption’ From Gay Rights Laws For Adoption Agencies Says Blair

Prime Minister Tony Blair says there will be “no exemption” from new gay rights laws for faith-based adoption agencies, but rules will not come “fully” into force until the end of 2008. Until then there will be a “statutory duty” for religious agencies to refer gay couples to other agencies, he added.

{mosimage}Mr Blair’s official spokesman said the statement reflected the Government’s position, and the Commons would not be given a free vote.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, a prominent catholic who was thought to be demanding exemptions for the church, greeted the announcement as a “breakthrough” that should be “welcomed by everyone”.

In a statement, Ms Kelly said the approach represented “a positive breakthrough in eliminating discrimination while recognising the need for a practical approach that ensures the most vulnerable children are found loving homes”.

She said “This approach should be welcomed by everyone on what has been an extremely complex issue. I have met a broad range of those with a direct interest in these regulations and each has had passionately held views, expressed with real conviction.”

“Two things are clear: first, that everyone wants to ensure that as a Government we tackle discrimination; and second, no one wants to lose the excellent adoption expertise that helps some of the most vulnerable children.

“The package announced today gives us the opportunity to meet both of those tests.

“The transition arrangements will give adoption agencies time to adapt and address how they work alongside an independent assessment of the process to ensure that the high quality expertise that exists is not lost.

“There will be no exemptions on adoption.” She said the Government would work with the agencies to work out how they could adapt their methods to meet the new rules.

“An independent team will be reporting to the Prime Minister on the practicalities of ensuring that the needs of vulnerable children and their adoptive parents will continue to be met both during the transition period and thereafter.

“Clearly listening to the experts on child welfare and adoption is vital.”

She concluded: “We have had the debate and heard a range of views – many of them expressed with passion and conviction.

As a result we now have a workable solution.

“Good government is about robust debate and finding solutions that meet our principles in a practical way.

“This is the right way forward. I hope that all concerned will now work with us to implement the package we have announced today.

“At the end of the day, we all know that there is a wide range of potential adoptive parents out there, including lesbians and gay men who can provide a loving home for children.

“This Government has a proud record on equality and supports a society where every citizen is treated fairly and with respect.

“Over the last decade, it is this Government which has done more than any other to build a decent and cohesive society.

“Today’s announcement is a breakthrough that should be welcomed by everyone.”

Mr Blair said he believed ministers had found a “way through” that prevented discrimination and protected children’s interests which all “reasonable people” would be able to accept.

“I start from a very firm foundation. There is no place in our society for discrimination. hat’s why I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple.

“And that way there can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies offering public funded services from regulations that prevent discrimination.”

The regulations would be brought forward by the Government “shortly”, according to Mr Blair.

“In the interests of the children they will include a transitional period before those regulations come fully into force at the end of 2008 for existing adoption agencies,” he added.

“This will be coupled during this period with a statutory duty for any adoption agency which does not process applications from same sex couples to refer them to another agency.”

The news comes as David Cameron revealed he will vote for gay adoption – and against an opt out for Catholic agencies.

His move opened a clear split with shadow home secretary David Davis who has said he will vote for the Catholic agencies to be exempted from gay rights laws.

Mr Cameron told BBC radio: “On the issue of the Catholic adoption agencies, I don’t think it’s right to give them a sort-of block exemption from the law.

“Otherwise you will have all sorts of other people wanting block exemptions from the law.”

The Tory leader is allowing his MPs a free vote because it is clear that the party would be badly divided if he made any attempt to whip traditionalists and modernisers into the same division lobby.