A Catholic adoption agency has argued before a tribunal that it should be allowed to continue rejecting same-sex couples as potential adoptive parents.

Mark Wiggin, chief executive of Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds), told the first full hearing of the Charity Commission tribunal that there had been an “unfortunate clash” between religious and gay rights, saying the organisation had a right to follow church teachings and refuse to consider gay couples, Thirdsector.co.uk reports.

He added that Catholic Care would rather close than consider gay couples.

Many other Catholic adoption agencies have chosen to abide by new discrimination regulations and accept gay couples, although some have closed.

The Sexual Orientation Regulations 2007 outlawed discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services, including adoption.

Catholic agencies were given a two-year window in which to comply with the new rules, which ran out in December 2008.

Catholic Care believes it can take advantage of a clause which allows charities to discriminate. Mr Wiggin argued that the agency needed to be able to discriminate in order to retain its funding from the church

Regulation 18 states: “It is lawful for a charity to provide benefits only to persons of a particular sexual orientation if the charity is established to provide a benefit to that particular group because of their sexual orientation and the charity is acting in accordance with the charitable instrument.”

However, the Charity Commission has banned other adoption agencies from changing the purpose for which they were created in order to avoid dealing with homosexual couples.

Counsel for the Charity Commission argued that the charity was “seeking to re-argue a political battle that was fought and lost at the highest level”.

He added: “The commission isn’t trying to be excessively legalistic or blind to the sincerity of charities’ views but this is a legal process and the tribunal and commission are here to apply the rules as it interprets them.”

The outcome of the tribunal is expected within 21 days.

Last month, Father Hudson’s Society, based in the Midlands, decided to withdraw its case over the issue. It had launched a joint appeal in December with Catholic Care.