Catholics to lose gay adoption fight

There will be no exemption for Catholic adoption agencies from laws forcing them to allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt a child, the education secretary has said.

“I cannot see a case for introducing legislation that protects gays and lesbians from discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation and then allowing, in terms as part of public policy, that discrimination to continue,” Alan Johnson said.

He also stressed there was no split in the cabinet over the issue, telling Today that Tony Blair and communities secretary Ruth Kelly – a devout Catholic – had been trying to “listen to the concerns expressed” and “find a way through”.

Reports suggest this way could see the new discrimination laws delayed for Catholic adoption agencies to give them time to ensure the children in their care were provided for if they decided they would rather close than allow gay couples to adopt.

It would also allow local authorities to take action to fill the gap left by any agencies that closed. Catholic adoption agencies make up one third of the voluntary sector, dealing with about 200 children a year, although often these are the most difficult ones to place.

Mr Johnson said the “case for no exemption” had been backed by the Children’s Society and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, adding: “I don’t think there is a way through that includes an exemption.”

The new legislation, which bans the discrimination of goods and services on the grounds of sexual orientation, is due to be introduced in England and Wales in April, but the government has come under strong pressure from church groups to modify its provisions.

On Monday, the head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, warned church-run adoption agencies could not adhere to the new rules as it would go against their “conscience” and belief that homosexuality is wrong.

The archbishops of Canterbury and York came out in support of the cardinal, despite a general policy among Anglican agencies to help same-sex couples adopt, and Mr Blair was said to be seriously considering an exemption for religious adoption services.

Downing Street said it was looking for a pragmatic solution – however, cabinet ministers have been outspoken against any idea of an exemption, and Labour backbenchers have also warned that they cannot accept the new discrimination laws being watered down.

In the latest intervention, Harriet Harman, the constitutional affairs minister and deputy Labour leadership candidate, told the New Statesman: “You can either be against discrimination or you can allow for it. You can’t be a little bit against discrimination.”

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