The Catholic adoption agency which won a legal victory over gay couples won its case through a loophole designed to protect gay organisations.

Leeds-based Catholic Care argued that it would be forced to close if it had to comply with equality legislation barring it from discriminating against gay couples.

Yesterday, the High Court ruled that the Charity Commission must reconsider its decision not to let the agency change its constitution.

The argument centred on Regulation 18 of the 2007 Sexual Orientation Regulations, which was designed to protect gay charities from litigation if they discriminated against straight people.

The clause allows charities to discriminate if their aims are to serve people of a particular sexual orientation. In practice, one example is gay charities being allowed to refuse employment to straight people.

Catholic Care was barred by the Charity Commission from amending its charitable objectives to reflect this but yesterday’s judgment means the commission must reconsider its decision.

The Charity Commission has still not confirmed whether it will appeal against the decision.

The charity was the only remaining Catholic adoption agency in the UK. Ten others had closed or cut their ties with the church since the two-year- window for them to comply with the law passed.

However, the judgment may pave the way for the others to reopen as agencies which bar gay couples.

Andrea Minichello Williams from the Christian Legal Centre said: “This is a great result and a step in the right direction. It’s upsetting that the other adoption agencies have been forced to close, but this ruling will help them reopen if they so wish.

“The ruling supports Christian groups which want to operate freely and according to traditional values with regard to the nature of family.”

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said the decision was “alarming” and could pose a threat to gay equality laws.

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.”