The last Catholic adoption agency in the UK to refuse to serve gay couples has won its High Court appeal.

Leeds-based Catholic Care was appealing against a Charity Commission ruling which said it could not discriminate against gay would-be parents.

Today, the High Court allowed its appeal. Mr Justice Briggs ordered the Charity Commission to reconsider the case.

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said this afternoon she could not yet comment on whether the commission would appeal against the decision.

The charity had pleaded with the commission for an exemption from the law, saying it would close rather than place children with gay couples.

Catholic Care had wanted to take advantage of a clause in the 2007 Sexual Orientation Regulations which allows charities to discriminate by amending their charitable objectives.

However it was barred from doing so by the Charity Commission.

All other Catholic adoption agencies have severed their ties with the church or closed down since the 2007 Sexual Orientation Regulations came into power.

They were given a two-year window in which to comply with the law.

Earlier this month, bishops for the three areas the agency serves said that children would “suffer” if Catholic Care was forced to close.

The agencies have typically worked to find homes for the children with the most troubled histories.

In a statement, the Bishop of Leeds Arthur Roche said that children would be “seriously disadvantaged” if the court had not agreed with the charity.

He said: “Catholic Care has been providing specialist adoption services for over 100 years.

“We have helped hundreds of children through the recruitment, assessment, training and support for prospective adoptive parents as well as offering ongoing and post-adoption support to families that give such security and love for some of the most vulnerable children in our society.

“The judgment today will help in our determination to continue to provide this invaluable service to benefit children, families and communities.”

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said the decision was “alarming”.

He told PinkNews.co.uk: “This is an alarming decision and the first major setback for the protection of gay people from discrimination by religious groups.

“It is unfortunate that the court has enabled Catholic Care to exploit what was obviously an error in the drafting of the equality legislation. The loophole this created was never intended to be used this way.

“If the Charity Commission reverses its previous decision – as the court is asking it to – we can look forward to a tidal wave of similar challenges from bigoted Catholic organisations who are determined not to accord any rights to gay people at all

“If Catholic Care wants to operate an adoption service based on bigotry, then it should not receive public funding to do so, and I hope that those statutory authorities that provide the money will now withdraw it.”