Catholic adoption agencies helping about 4,000 children find families each year could be closed if new gay rights legislation is enforced, a senior cleric has warned.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Catholic archbishop of Westminster, today called on ministers not to introduce sexual orientation legislation that would force agencies to help same-sex couples adopt a child.
In a letter to all cabinet ministers, he wrote: "Catholic teaching about the foundations of family life, a teaching shared not only by other Christian churches but also other faiths, means that Catholic adoption agencies would not be able to recruit and consider homosexual couples as potential adoptive parents.
"We believe it would be unreasonable, unnecessary and unjust discrimination against Catholics for the government to insist that if they wish to continue to work with local authorities, Catholic adoption agencies must act against the teaching of the church and their own consciences by being obliged in law to provide such a service."
A bid by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to revoke the regulations as introduced in Northern Ireland on January 1st was defeated in the House of Lords earlier this month, but today Tony Blair indicated he might consider amending the laws.
"This is not a straightforward black and white issue," the prime minister's official spokesman told reporters this morning.
"The cardinal's letter illustrates the sensitivities on one side but there are also sensitivities on the other side. We need to plot a way through that recognises the interests of children but also gets us through."
Any move to distill the regulations, which are due to be enforced in England and Wales this spring, will be fiercely contested by gay rights campaigners.
They argue the new regulations would only give same-sex couples the same rights not be discriminated against as everyone else.
However, the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, this morning expressed scepticism that Catholic adoption agencies - which make up a third of the voluntary sector - would be allowed to exclude homosexuals from adopting children in their care.
"We have committed ourselves to anti-discrimination law, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and it is extremely difficult to see how you can be excused from anti-discrimination law on the grounds of religion," he told Today.
He said each agency must act in the interests of the individual child, but stressed: "If we take the view as a society that we should not discriminate against people who are homosexual, you cannot give exclusions for people on the grounds that their religion or their race says we don't agree with that."
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