Religious adoption groups face legal fight for survival

A stay of execution against faith-based adoption agencies ran out on New Year’s Day, with opponents claiming they must bow to ‘gay rights’ laws or face crippling legal action.

It is claimed that the Sexual Orientation Regulations make it unlawful for religious adoption agencies to place children only with married couples and single people.

But others point to exemptions in the Regulations and other laws protecting religious liberty.

Five Roman Catholic agencies have decided to go against the Church’s teaching and change their policies to allow applications from homosexual couples.

One Roman Catholic agency is to close down altogether.

But a number of other agencies believe the law does allow them to operate in accordance with their religious ethos and are seeking alternative legal options.

The plight of faith-based adoption agencies caused a political storm in 2007 when Tony Blair gave them 21 months to prepare for the new laws.

The then Prime Minister was believed to be sympathetic to the difficulties faced by religious agencies. So too was Ruth Kelly, Communities Minister at the time. But other members of the cabinet were fiercely opposed to any exemption.

Speaking yesterday to BBC Radio Five Live, The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said the current situation shows “how aggressive” the law is being towards faith-based adoption agencies.

“I think it is iconic of a situation where there is a clash between sexual orientation rights and religious rights. In almost every circumstance I’ve been aware of, religious rights have been seen to play second fiddle.”

Writing in May last year, Barrister Neil Addison warned against interpreting the Sexual Orientation Regulations too narrowly.

He wrote in the Catholic Herald: “The Church must, of course, obey the law. But I find it sad that the Church appears to be acquiescing in the most fundamentalist interpretations of the SORs when it could be questioning these interpretations and engaging in the process of deciding what the SORs really mean.

“The SORs cannot be looked at in isolation. You also have to consider human rights protections for religious belief, equality legislation prohibiting religious discrimination and, finally, the Adoption Act itself, which makes the welfare of the child the primary consideration.

“Many questions remained unanswered. For example, is a decision by a Catholic adoption agency only to approve adoption by married heterosexual partners a “homophobic” decision? Or can it be shown objectively to be in the best interests of children?

“Would a refusal by a local authority to approve a Catholic adoption agency be legal under religious discrimination law? And would a requirement that a Catholic agency approves single-sex parents be a breach of religious freedom protected by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights?

“When you have such a cocktail of law and competing rights you have ample scope for legal argument, negotiation and compromise.”