England’s only evangelical Christian fostering and adoption agency has been at the Court of Appeal to challenge a ruling which said it was discriminating by not accepting same-sex couples as foster carers.
Supported by The Christian Institute, Cornerstone Adoption and Fostering Service (North East) has been in a legal battle with Ofsted since 2019, when the regulator downgraded its fostering service from “Good” to “Requires Improvement”.
In July 2020, the High Court rejected Ofsted’s claim that Cornerstone was not entitled to recruit only those who share its Christian faith. But the Court also ruled that Cornerstone cannot require its carers to abide by its Christian beliefs on sexual conduct. Cornerstone is seeking to overturn this second part of the judgment.
Aidan O’Neill QC, arguing on behalf of Cornerstone, called the High Court ruling “incoherent” and said there is an “intimate link between evangelical identity and an acknowledgement that sexual intimacy is to be enjoyed exclusively within a marriage between two persons of the opposite sex”.
He said that if it is accepted that Cornerstone may restrict its services to those with an evangelical Christian faith, “it is not then for the court to tell them what that faith really is and ‘if you only understood your own faith better, you would be welcoming gay people as carers’”.
sexual intimacy is to be enjoyed exclusively within a marriage between two persons of the opposite sex
He added: “If you accept that the religion and belief requirements are justified and lawful, that is the end of the matter.”
Mr O’Neill said the High Court judge had attempted to “reconcile the irreconcilable” by claiming it is possible for evangelicals to uphold their faith while being practising homosexuals. He argued: “You cannot be an evangelical Christian whose lifestyle is one which endorses same-sex activities.
“We say if we were forced to adopt those who claim they subscribe to evangelical beliefs but do not conduct their lives in accordance with traditional biblical morality, then that would be undermining of those who have signed up to Cornerstone for its Christian evangelical ethos.”
He also argued that same-sex couples would not be prevented from fostering or adopting as there are other agencies, particularly ones run by local authorities, which would accept them.
A judgment is expected in due course.