Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Comments on the Gay Adoptions Row

This is a revised and extended version of my two previous post on the subject

After the recent demonstrations outside Parliament, the first salvo of the predictable attack on the forthcoming Sexual Orientation Regulations in the delivery of goods, access and services for the rest of the UK, was shot on Monday, quite unsurprisingly, by the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, sent a letter to every Cabinet member with apparent intent of blackmailing the government into giving the Church further exemptions in the regulations to those they already have. Something he has since then denied.

Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, herself a staunch Catholic, had been reported over the week-end to be considering granting the Church an opt-out clause with the apparent support of the Prime Minister. However, several members of the Cabinet have already come out against the move, prompting rumours of a split within the Cabinet. It seems now that the push for the opt-out is coming from the Prime Minister himself whom, it is thought, will probably convert to Catholicism when he leaves office. A Cabinet minister reportedly told a Labour MP that “it's all coming from Cherie” Blair who is also a committed Catholic.

On Tuesday, the Church of England, in the persons of its two highest ranking prelates (Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and John Sentamu, Archbishop of York) wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister in support of Murphy-O'Connor's threat.

It seems to me there are several flaws in the reasoning behind these demands for opt-outs and the claims that the new regulations are not compatible with the religious agencies’ activities.

First, the law clearly and simply says that gay people can adopt; and churches, however much they like it to be the case, are in no position to decide that a law should be ignored, even if they think it wrong.

Second, there is a shortage of foster parents in this country. I would think that the more loving and caring couples can be found to raise those children (whether gay or straight), the better.

Third, the Catholic Church's agencies are said to handle 4% of all adoptions; about 200 a year. In 2006, 3,700 children were adopted from care in the UK, with an average age of four years and one month. Of these, 185 went to gay couples. Considering the small figures on both sides (number of children placed by the Churches vs number of children placed with gay couples), it is in any case quite unlikely that church agencies will find themselves in a position to deal with gay couples who will probably prefer to go to a non religious organisation in the first place.

Fourth, as Mrrs Williams and Sentamu are so keen to remind us in their letter, these adoption agencies are providing a public service. They receive funding from the state (taxpayers' money; some of which is coming from LGBT people and families) to perform those services, thus effectively becoming state agencies. They therefore have an obligation to provide their services to EVERYONE without discrimination whatsoever as any public body would in a democratic society.

The fact that they resist dispatching some of their duties so vehemently should perhaps even be seen by the supervising authorities as a signal that there may be other areas in which discrimination is taking place. If they can do it so easily and forcefully against one group, why not against others?

What is certain is that the Churches are shooting themselves in the foot in this instance. This whole business is not going to improve their already tarnished image.

My advise to the Catholic Church and the C. of E. is to get off their moral high-ground and think a little more about their duty towards the children they pretend to be wanting to help, or indeed simply give up.

If those agencies are not ready to welcome and serve everyone, then perhaps we should call their bluff and not expect them to provide any service at all. Let them stop and pass on their rather small burden to the many non-moralising organisations out there, ready to do the job properly.

At the end of the day, however, it seems that this may not simply be about helping children or even religious conscience and homophobia (Sentamu implied that much in an interview on the Today Programme this morning). After all, Churches have made all sorts of compromises and adjustments to their doctrines along the centuries. The much quoted Leviticus, where the Bible's strongest and almost only condemnation of homosexuality is to be found, provides ample evidence of this.

Could it be that religious leaders are simply scared to loose their power and influence? That they simply can not accept the fact that after about 2000 years of moulding society and ruling people's lives in all impunity, other views on life have come to the fore and asserted themselves as valid and legitimate alternatives to their own philosophy?

The world is moving on but these people are apparently quite content to uphold and follow verbatim an often contradictory book written thousands of years ago for different people, mores and times.

Others, and that includes the vast majority of Christians, are thankfully living with their own time.

To read my (growing number of) previous posts on the subject, please click here or on "Sexual Orientation Regulations" in the right hand menu.

This post was published in a slightly different form on on 25 January 2007.


  1. Very well said as ever.

    What has struck me is that in the context of an equality law, what this has provided for is an outpouring of prejudice which adversely affects all LGB young people; all children of LGB parents (including adopters) and in particular the well being of LGB children of same sex couples who are effectively being denigrated by these public statements from people who really should know better.

    For a law that is supposed to make people more equal we have seen an outpouring of prejudice from the churches, which is why there should be no such exemption.

  2. Interesting to know.


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