The leader of Scotland’s Roman Catholics has resigned as chairman of an adoption agency because it plans to comply with the law.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien stood down as president of St Andrew’s Children’s Society after it said it will comply with the Sexual Orientation Regulations.
The regulations, which outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, services and facilities, were opposed by the Roman Catholic Church.
Cardinal O’Brien has spoken out against gay parenting in the past.
Earlier this year he accused the government of “promoting a bill which denies that a child has a biological father,” a reference to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which granted equal access for lesbians and single women to fertilisation treatments.
Church-run adoption agencies were given a two-year opt out to give them time to adjust to the SORs – that runs out at the end of this month.
In November 2006 Cardinal O’Brien compared same-sex partnerships to paedophilia and also spoke against gay adoption.
His resignation was greeted with sadness by the society, but his view is clearly not shared by them.
“We believe we need to be able to recruit adoptive and foster care families from as broad a spectrum of people from our community as possible without discrimination,” said Maureen McEvoy, chairwoman of St Andrew’s Society’s management committee.
“The society believes that this is compatible with what Jesus taught us about loving, respecting and valuing everyone without prejudice.”
A church-run agency in Glasgow, St Margaret’s Adoption and Child Care Society, claimed last week it has changed its constitution and will continue to exclude gay couples.
The Times reported that the society claims it is protected under the Equality Act 2006, which prevents local authorities from discriminating against groups on religious grounds.
Gay equality organisation Stonewall said it was not concerned by the legal positioning by Church-run adoption agencies.
“Any authority is perfectly entitled to announce they are to break the law, but there will be consequences,” said chief executive Ben Summerskill.
“The Charity Commission has been clear with a number of charities who have endeavoured to change their objects that they would have their charitable status withdrawn.”
When the Church’s two year period of exemption from the SORs comes to an end on January 1st 2009, any Roman Catholic adoption agency that turns away a gay or lesbian couple on the grounds of their sexual orientation could face legal action.
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 Charity Commission has told Catholic Care in the Leeds diocese and Father Hudson’s Society, who operate in the Midlands, they cannot change their “objects,” which describe and identify the purpose for which the charity was set up.
In October The Catholic Children’s Society of the Archdiocese of Westminster was also refused permission to change its charitable objects.
Catholic adoption agencies hoped to take advantage of a clause in the SORs by changing their objects to state the explicitly Catholic nature of their work.