Two faith-based adoption agencies are appealing against a Charity Commission decision which stopped them from protecting their religious ethos.
The case will be among the first to be heard by the Charity Tribunal, a mechanism set up earlier this year to allow Commission decisions to be challenged.
It centres on the plight of two Roman Catholic adoption agencies, Father Hudson’s Society and the Leeds-based Catholic Care, which want to clarify their governing documents to formalise their existing practice of only placing children with couples who are married.
Without this, the groups could be sued by homosexual couples under ‘gay rights’ laws which come into force in January.
The laws require goods and services to be provided without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, and contain no explicit exemptions for adoption agencies who object to same-sex adoption.
However, charities can be exempted from the equality laws on the grounds of “provisions of a charitable instrument”, such as a governing document.
The two agencies had hoped to solve the problem by making it explicit in their charitable objects that they exist to place children with married couples only.
But the Commission said it would not allow the change.
It did, however, admit that a definitive ruling could only be made by the Charity Tribunal.
Barrister Neil Addison says that if the agencies changed their charitable objects to specifically outline their Roman Catholic character – rather than simply referring to married couples – they will fall within the exemption requirements.
He said they needed to “take a different route and state in their objects that they must act in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church and that would provide them with the legal protection they need and protection under religious discrimination law also”.
However, a number of agencies have capitulated to the new legislation and cut their ties with the Roman Catholic Church.
Others say they will defy the Church’s teaching on marriage, but senior leaders have warned that they will lose their funding.
The agencies, many of which have earned a reputation for finding homes for ‘hard-to-place’ children, have until the end of 2008 to comply with the rules.
Gay adoption was legalised in 2002, although recent polls suggest there is still widespread public opposition to the practice.