In a decision that ends weeks of debate over the issue, Tony Blair has announced that there will be no exemptions for Catholic Adoption Agencies from anti-discrimination laws which the church has said would force them to act against their members’ conscience and religious teachings. In what he calls a “sensible compromise”, Blair has offered the church a 21-month window (until the end of 2008) during which time they must comply with the law or lose public funding. Until that time, the Catholic agencies have a “statutory duty” to refer same-sex couples to other agencies.
Said Blair: “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. …There can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies offering publicly-funded services from regulations which prevent discrimination. [There will be] 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.”
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who leads the church in Wales and England, responded to Blair’s directive: “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 wellbeing 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.”
Ben Summerskill, head of gay activist group Stonewall, lauded the decision: “We are delighted that so many ministers have listened to the representations we made and acknowledge that there should be an as wide as possible pool of adopted parents. This is a triumph for 21st century tolerance over 19th century prejudice.”