The Prime Minister announced today that, despite press reports to the contrary, he is still thinking about whether or not to grant Roman Catholic adoption agencies an exemption from legislation to protect gay people from discrimination.
Perhaps he, like commentator Nicolas Chinardet, is trying to unravel the flawed logic of the senior churchmen who have been writing to him this week.
After the recent demonstrations outside Parliament, the first salvo of the predictable attack on the forthcoming introduction of the Sexual Orientation Regulations in the rest of the UK was shot on Monday.
The man with the starting pistol was unsurprisingly, by the Catholic Church. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.
The man in red 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. He denies the charge of blackmail.
Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, herself a staunch Catholic, had been reported over the weekend 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.
On Tuesday, the Church of England, or at least 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 would 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, as 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 advice 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 not expect them to provide any service at all.
Let them stop and pass on their rather small burden (The Catholic Church’s agencies are said to handle 4% of all adoptions; about 200 a year) 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.
After all, Churches have made all sorts of compromises and adjustments to their doctrines along the centuries.
The much-quoted Book of 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.