England’s largest Roman Catholic-run adoption agency has decided to consider same-sex couples as potential parents.

However, the Catholic Children’s Society of Arundel and Brighton, Portsmouth and Southwark’s chief executive claimed that gay and lesbian couples “will not get very far” if they apply.

“We offer our services to all, irrespective of religious or ethnic origin,” the group claims on its website.

The Sexual Orientation Regulations, passed last year, protect gay, lesbian and bisexual people from discrimination when accessing goods, facilities and services.

The government briefly considered an opt out for Roman Catholic adoption agencies.

After meeting with MPs and the Cabinet in January 2007, former Prime Minister Tony Blair bowed to strong criticism from his own party over the exemption.

“I start from a very firm foundation: there is no place in our society for discrimination,” Mr Blair said.

“That is why I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple.

“And that is why there can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies offering publicly-funded services from regulations which prevent discrimination.”

The Roman Catholic agencies were given an opt-out until the end of this year to comply with the law.

Some of them have closed rather than deal with same-sex couples as potential parents, despite the fact that over the last 20 years, 13 of the 720 adopted children placed by Catholic charities have been with single  gay or lesbian people.

Catholic Children’s Society of Arundel and Brighton, Portsmouth and Southwark’s chief executive Terry Connor told Catholic newspaper The Universe that local bishops had backed the plans to allow same-sex coupled to apply for adoption, but made clear that prejudice remains.

“I suspect if a same-sex couple arrives at any of the agencies just to test out the system, they will not get very far,” he said.

“There are bishops who are taking the legal route about this, but ours are not. It remains to be seen whether that would result in more difficulties for their agencies.”

Some agencies are attempting to get round the SORs, with Westminster Catholic Children’s Society claiming it only places children with married couples and it is ready to go to court over the issue.

In Scotland, where the Roman Catholic Church regularly tries to interfere in the political process, First Minister Alex Salmond has said he wants Church adoption agencies to remain open.

However, the SNP leader has not proposed any concrete solutions. The Scottish Parliament has legal powers over adoption, but not equality legislation.