There's a huge fuss going on in England at present over the impact of the Equality Act on adoptions.
The law insists that there be no discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of 'goods and services'. In most countries, that doesn't include the provision of adoption services: but in the UK, the Government has decreed that the latter are, indeed, included. That brings religious-based adoption services into direct conflict with the Act. Catholic adoption agencies in particular have traditionally refused their services to homosexual and lesbian couples seeking to adopt children, on the grounds that such 'families' are in conflict with the moral principles of the Church. Now they're being forced to open their doors to such couples, irrespective of religious differences - and as a result, many will stop offering such services altogether.
A Catholic adoption agency has become the first to stop finding new homes for children because of the Government's new gay equality laws.
One MP said it was "a tragedy" that the Catholic Children's Rescue Service would have to stop doing the work it has carried out since 1886, and accused ministers of discriminating against Roman Catholics.
Its directors say they have been forced to stop recruiting, assessing or approving couples who want to adopt children because of new legislation which means they cannot follow their religious beliefs by turning away homosexual couples.
Several other adoption agencies around the country have cut their ties with the Roman Catholic Church - which has ruled that gay adoption is morally wrong - in order to comply with the Equality Act.
But the CCRS, which is supported by the actor John Thomson and the parents of comedian Steve Coogan, said it could not do so because it is so closely linked to the Diocese of Salford, and will become the first Catholic adoption agency to stop offering the service.
It will now merge with local Catholic welfare groups to provide care homes for children, homeless shelters and support for parents of adopted children.
Some Catholic agencies are defying the law and looking for loopholes to allow them to continue to function in accordance with their moral principles.
A Roman Catholic adoption agency headed by Britain's most senior Catholic churchman is to defy the Government over its controversial gay equality laws.
The Westminster Catholic Children's Society, whose president is Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, will ignore new rules that require it to place children with same-sex couples.
While other Catholic adoption agencies are caving in to the legislation by severing their ties with the Church or even closing, the Westminster Society will continue its policy of placing children only with married heterosexuals and single people.
Its stance will set the Cardinal - who welcomed Tony Blair into the Catholic Church last December - on a collision course with New Labour and the gay rights lobby.
It is a high-risk strategy that could provoke a costly and bruising test case in the courts, with campaigners determined to see the Society closed down.
But advisers to the Cardinal, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, believe they have found a legal loophole that could allow the Society to remain open and loyal to Catholic teaching, which opposes gay marriage and adoption by gay couples.
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The Society, which was founded in 1764, has been advised by lawyers that if it amended its constitution it could comply with the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which take effect next year and aim to end discrimination against gays by businesses.
At the moment, the constitution simply refers to helping couples who wish to adopt. However, a quirk in the wording of the regulations means that the Society may be able to protect itself by amending its constitution to refer directly to married heterosexual couples.
The Cardinal said yesterday: 'I fully support the decision of the trustees in their endeavours to continue the valuable work of the Society.'
His defiance could influence Catholic agencies that are still considering their fate, although some have already thrown in the towel.
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Jim Richards, the Society's director, said that by spelling out the charitable aims of the Society, it could be judged to have satisfied Section 18 of the Regulations, although this does not appear to have been the Government's intention.
He added: 'We simply want to continue to do what we have been doing for many years reasonably successfully. Adoption is a very important part of the Church's work with children who are extremely vulnerable.'
He said the crisis need not have happened if the Government had given an exemption to adoption agencies, as other EU countries had done.
'Other countries don't see adoption as goods and services and therefore it doesn't fall under their regulations,' he said. 'This is a problem of the Government's making which has been foisted on us.'
To me, the real tragedy in this situation is that the British Government - and others like it around the world, including several State governments in the USA - is trying to force its vision of society and morality on everyone, regardless of whether or not people agree with it.
I certainly don't deny to anyone the right to live his or her life according to the moral norms and standards he or she has selected. Free will is the basis of Christianity, after all. It's fundamental Christian teaching that we all have the right to choose whether to follow God's revelation, or turn aside from it and follow a different 'guiding light'. However, that free will is a two-way street. If I demand the right to follow my conscience, I have to extend the same right to others - or else I'm a hypocrite.
The problem with so many social activists is that they try to force everyone to conform to what they see as 'right' or 'just'. The brouhaha over adoption is only one aspect of this. Another is the demand that Catholic hospitals offer contraceptive and abortion services in areas where there is no State or private hospital available. This is, of course, out of the question from the perspective of faith: yet the pressure groups are trying to insist that the Church give in to their demands.
I can never accept this, and never will. I won't be dictated to by those with a different moral perspective from my own, just as I freely extend to them the right not to be dictated to by myself, or others who share my moral outlook. I do not and never will accept that a homosexual or lesbian relationship can be equated to the Biblical standard for 'marriage' or 'family'.
When it comes to the nature of the family, Christian revelation, tradition and teaching are clear and consistent. The family is regarded as being the union of a man and a woman, and the fruit of that union - children. If children cannot be conceived naturally, adoption of children has always been a viable option. However, Christian adoption agencies generally seek to place children with families that conform to Christian practice, having both a father and a mother. They usually won't place children with same-sex couples, because such families are viewed, not only as being contrary to the Christian ethic, but also as unnatural and abnormal, not the place where a child can receive a natural and normal upbringing.
Without taking away the right of choice of those non-Christians who follow this lifestyle, I have to admit that I'm in full agreement with the traditional Christian perspective on this matter. Look up the dictionary definitions of normal and abnormal, natural and unnatural. It's pretty clear that, given the 'normal' and 'natural' human relationship as a baseline for comparison (and even leaving Christian theology out of the argument), homosexual or lesbian couples are indeed 'abnormal' and 'unnatural' partnerships, by dictionary definition. I've had to work with some children raised in such relationships, and invariably they've had problems that I ascribe directly to the circumstances of their upbringing. I don't deny that children from more 'normal' families can - and do - also have problems. That's not the point. The issue is that for those of us with Christian beliefs, it's simply not acceptable to be forced to place the children entrusted to us into situations that are in violation of our most basic philosophy of life.
I have no objection to agencies and counselors from a non-Christian background offering the services they feel are morally justifiable and appropriate. However, I can never accept that the State can, or should, or is entitled to, force those with different moral standards to adopt a conflicting mode of operation.
This sort of pressure is growing. Canada has already got to the point where a Christian pastor can't preach about the Biblical morality of various issues (including homosexuality) without risking prosecution for 'hate speech'. It's time that we stood firm against such imposed tyranny, and demanded the same freedom of expression, and freedom to practice our beliefs, as the pressure groups on and for the other side are demanding for themselves. It works both ways.