Catholics fight gay adoption rules


Jan 23, 2007

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Britain's leading cardinal said on Tuesday the Catholic church may be forced to close down its adoption agencies if the government insists they consider placing children with gay couples.

Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair urging him to exempt Catholic adoption agencies from new anti-discrimination legislation, or risk reducing the chances for some 4,000 children across Britain waiting to be adopted.

He said the Catholic church in England and Wales, which he leads, would have "serious difficulty" adhering to the law which is due to come into effect in April and which outlaws discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

"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," the cardinal wrote.

He said it would be "an unnecessary tragedy if legislation forced the closure of these adoption services."

Homosexual Christian lobbyists accused the cardinal of bowing to pressure from the Vatican and making threats.

"The Vatican is raising the pressure here in its war against gay people," Reverend Martin Reynolds, spokesman for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said.

"We are horrified that the Catholic church appears to be holding the government to ransom. They are obviously not putting the best interest of these children first." The Equality Act outlaws discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the basis of sexual orientation.

Charles Falconer, a member of Blair's cabinet, said it was difficult to see how exemptions could be granted.

"If we take the view as a society that we should not discriminate against people who are homosexual, you cannot give exclusions to people on the grounds that their religion or their race says 'we don't agree with that.'" he told BBC radio.

"We have committed ourselves to anti-discrimination law ... and it is extremely difficult to see how you can be excused ... on the grounds of religion."

The 12 Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales handle around a third of voluntary sector adoptions.