A bid by the Catholic and Anglican churches in Britain to exempt Catholic adoption agencies from being forced to place children with gay couples has received Muslim backing, but still looked set to fail.
The Equality Act, which comes into force in April, is designed to stop discrimination against gay and lesbian couples wishing to adopt a child, but the church leaders called for an exemption for Catholic adoption agencies on faith grounds.
Muslims yesterday voiced support for the exemption and described the government’s apparent rejection as absurd.
“The Muslim Council of Britain fully supports the principled stand taken by the leaders of the Catholic and Anglican churches,” it said in a statement, adding that homosexuality is banned in Islam.
The battle between church and state involved Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was said to have favoured an exemption, risking a revolt by most of his ministers and underscoring the weakness of his position in the closing months of his premiership.
But yesterday Education Minister Alan Johnson, who has responsibility for adoption, said the government, including Blair, saw no case for special treatment. “I don’t see a case for exemption and I don’t think the prime minister does.
“The case for no exemption has been made very eloquently. The strength of that argument suggests that we cannot introduce legislation to protect gays and lesbians against discrimination and at the same time allow that discrimination to continue.”
Blair said a decision would be taken next week and that while he favoured the right of adoption by gay couples, he also wanted to ensure the Catholic agencies continued their work.
“I have always been in favour of the right of gay couples to adopt. Our priority will always be the welfare of the child. I am committed to finding a way through this sensitive and difficult issue.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the leader of the world’s 77-million Anglicans, and Archbishop of York John Sentamu wrote to Blair on Wednesday backing a call by the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, for the special exemption.
Murphy-O’Connor’s letter to Blair argued that to force Catholic agencies to place children with gay or lesbian couples went against the Church’s teachings.
“We believe it would be unreasonable, unnecessary and unjust discrimination against Catholics for the government to insist … Catholic adoption agencies must act against the teaching of the church and their consciences,” he wrote.
Murphy-O’Connor said it would be a tragedy if the agencies were forced to close as this could put about 4 000 children awaiting adoption at a disadvantage.
Despite a similar reaction to an equal rights law on adoption in the US, so far Catholic adoption agencies in only two cities have shut.
Johnson said the church leaders’ pleas were a minority view, and Jewish and Anglican adoption agencies had made no such call. “I very much hope that the Catholic Church does continue to provide the important service that they do. But if they don’t, I think we can ensure that children are not disadvantaged by that.
“We want to try and find a way through,” he said, suggesting a transition period before Catholic agencies had to comply.