Government offers adoption agencies no exemption from gay rights law

 There can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies from the new sexual orientation regulations, Tony Blair has decided. The Equality Act, due to come into effect in April, outlaws discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the basis of sexual orientation. Some agencies had claimed they would close if not given an opt-out from having to place children with homosexual couples, which they say goes against their beliefs. In a statement released by Downing Street yesterday afternoon, the PM said he had listened to the "strongly-held" views on all sides but that he started from a "firm foundation" that there was no place in society for discrimination. So gay couples should be able to apply to adopt like any other couple, he said. There will be a transition period before the regulations come fully into force at the end of 2008 for existing adoption agencies. Blair said in a statement: Over the last few days I have listened to the strongly-held views on all sides on the issue of adoption agencies and the new sexual orientation regulations. I have heard from representatives of gay rights groups and the leaders of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches as well as Jack McConnell, who has been making sure the Scottish perspective is heard in these discussions. While views obviously differ, everyone is agreed that, above all, the interests of the child and particularly the most vulnerable children must come first. I believe we have now found a way through that achieves this and which all reasonable people will be able to support. I start from a very firm foundation: there is no place in our society for discrimination. That is why I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple. And that is why there can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies offering publicly-funded services from regulations which prevent discrimination. This will be made clear in the regulations that the Government will lay before Parliament shortly. In the interests of children, they will include a transition period before these regulations come fully into force at the end of 2008 for existing adoption agencies. This will be coupled, during this period, with a statutory duty for any adoption agency which does not process applications from same sex couples to refer them to another agency. I have also asked for a regular independent assessment from adoption and child welfare experts on the impact of the sexual orientation regulations on adoption in order to maintain the existing body of expertise. I am convinced that this is a package which has the interests of children, and particularly the most vulnerable, at its heart. It recognises the hugely valuable role played in adoption by charities and volunteers, including those inspired by religious faith, ensure we do not lose their expertise and services while upholding and extending the Government's record against discrimination in all spheres." The proposed measures are likely to face a vote in Parliament next month before coming into effect on 6 April. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor released the following statement in response to the news: It is clear from the Prime Minister's statement that he has listened to some of the concerns of the Catholic Church in regard to its adoption agencies. We are, of course, deeply disappointed that no exemption will be granted to our agencies on the grounds of widely held religious conviction and conscience. We look to the forthcoming Parliamentary debate to address some of the fundamental issues centred on the well-being of the child, whose needs must always be put first. We note and welcome, however, the Government's expressed desire that the experience and excellent work of our agencies is not lost, especially for the benefit of needy children. We appreciate the two year period that will be established for independent assessment. We note that one of its purposes will be to "ensure the valuable expertise of faith-based adoption agencies in successfully placing the most vulnerable children, including the full range of post-adoption services, is retained and developed"(Terms of Reference). We understand that Local Authorities will continue to work with and fund our Catholic agencies in their vital and sensitive work during this period. This debate has raised crucial issues for the common good of our society. We believe there is an urgent task to reach a new consensus on how best thepublic role of religious organisations can be safeguarded and their rights upheld. An important part of our Catholic tradition is to work constructively with the Government in mutually respectful cooperation, in which we can act with confidence and integrity in the service of the common good. Source: Downing Street/Archbishops House

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