Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly has ignited another cabinet row over the Sexual Orientation Regulations.
The new rules, which protect gay, bisexual and lesbian people in England and Wales from discrimination when accessing goods and services, are due to come into force in April.
It emerged over the weekend that Kelly and Prime Minister Tony Blair want to exempt Roman Catholic adoption agencies from the regulations.
The Catholic opt-out was due to be outlined last week, but fierce opposition within Ms Kelly’s own party delayed the announcement.
Ministers have lined up to criticise the proposed compromise.
Environment minister Ben Bradshaw, who is openly gay, told the BBC’s Politics Show yesterday that he would be “very surprised” if the reported opt-out clause for Catholic adoption agencies was approved.
“These decisions are made collectively and I have been assured that there will be no change in policy,” he said.
“It’s exactly the same as saying you can’t have a child for adoption because you’re black or because you’re a woman or because you’re disabled.”
Senior cabinet minister Lord Falconer also spoke out against any exemptions.
“We have introduced laws which prevent discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.
“Those laws should be given full effect,” he told the BBC’s Sunday AM programme.
“We do take the view in this country that you shouldn’t be discriminated against on that basis and think that applies to everybody, whatever your religion.”
Seven Roman Catholic agencies currently account for only 4% of the nearly 3,000 children adopted last year.
Peter Hain, a candidate for Labour deputy leader, introduced the SOR into Northern Ireland in January and was also critical of any exemption. He told ITV that bigotry must be opposed.
Education Secretary Alan Johnson, another candidate for deputy leader, is known to have challenged Ms Kelly in cabinet about the delays to the SOR, which were due to be introduced in England and Wales in January 2007.
He refused any exemptions to the regulations last year, while he was responsible for their introduction as Trade and Industry Secretary.
Leader of the House of Commons Jack Straw, Environment Secretary David Miliband, Defence Secretary Des Browne and Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell are also thought to oppose any exemptions.
Ms Kelly has been a controversial choice to oversee gay rights legislation.
She is a member of Roman Catholic sect Opus Dei, and has consistently refused to say whether or not she believes homosexuality is a sin.
In May 2006 she told Radio5 Live, “I don’t think its right for politicians to start making moral judgments about people, it’s the last thing I want to do.”
It is thought that Tony Blair supports Ms Kelly over the exemptions from the SOR for Catholic adoption agencies.
The Guardian reports that the Prime Minister had an argument with the Parliamentary Labour Party last Wednesday over the issue, and will have meetings with cabinet colleagues and other MPs this week.
A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government tried to kill speculation about the Catholic opt-out.
“We are absolutely committed to bringing forward proposals that provide effective protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” he said.