England’s last remaining Roman Catholic adoption agency has won a lifeline in the High Court today over laws which could force it to consider homosexuals as parents.
Leeds-based Catholic Care is battling for its life because its policy of not placing children with unmarried couples may breach Labour’s homosexual equality laws.
Today’s High Court ruling gives the agency a glimmer of hope, but it must still argue with the Charity Commission for the liberty to act according to its religious ethos.
The case centres around Labour’s Sexual Orientation Regulations which were controversially introduced under former Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
The regulations outlaw sexual orientation discrimination in the provision of goods or services.
Since the regulations were introduced all but this last one of England’s Roman Catholic adoption agencies have either closed or cut their ties with the church.
However, the regulations give some charities the right to restrict their services to one sexual orientation group. A charity can do this if it is attempting to act within its stated aims as set out in its trust deed.
This is a benefit to some homosexual charities that wish to restrict certain services, for example counseling services, to help homosexuals only.
Catholic Care wants to use this legal right to restrict its adoption services to heterosexual married couples only.
To do this, it needed to clarify its trust deed with the Charity Commission. But in 2008 the Commission refused to allow the clarification.
Catholic Care then appealed to the High Court, arguing that the Commission’s interpretation of the right to restrict services was too narrow.
Today the High Court agreed with Catholic Care and ordered the Charity Commission to reconsider its decision in light of the court’s judgment.
This does not necessarily mean Catholic Care will be permitted to restrict its services to heterosexual married couples, but it does offer the group some hope.
However, the ruling could be swept aside within weeks by new legislation currently going through Parliament. If passed, Labour’s new Equality Bill will make life more difficult for Catholic Care.
Today’s ruling was welcomed by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Arthur Roche.
He said the judgment confirmed that Catholic Care was correct in its reading of the law and that the exemption could apply “to any charity subject to it being in the public interest”.
The bishop said: “We look forward to producing evidence to the Charity Commission to support the position that we have consistently taken through this process: that without being able to use this exemption, children without families would be seriously disadvantaged.
“Catholic Care has been providing specialist adoption services for over 100 years.
“We have helped hundreds of children through the recruitment, assessment, training and support for prospective adoptive parents, as well as offering ongoing and post-adoption support to families that give such security and love for some of the most vulnerable children in our society.
“The judgment today will help in our determination to continue to provide this invaluable service to benefit children, families and communities.”
But the ruling was slammed by secularists and homosexual activists.
Jonathan Finney, head of external affairs at Stonewall, said: “It’s unthinkable that anyone engaged in delivering any kind of public or publicly funded service should be given licence to pick and choose service users on the basis of individual prejudice.
“It’s clearly in the best interests of children in care to encourage as wide a pool of potential adopters as possible.”
And Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “It is unfortunate that the court has enabled Catholic Care to exploit what was obviously an error in the drafting of the equality legislation. The loophole this created was never intended to be used this way.
“If the Charity Commission reverses its previous decision – as the court is asking it to – we can look forward to a tidal wave of similar challenges from bigoted Catholic organisations who are determined not to accord any rights to gay people at all.”