Evangelical Christian foster care agency must allow gay parents to sign up as carers, judge rules

Nick Duffy July 7, 2020
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Cornerstone CEO and co-founder Pam Birtle

Cornerstone CEO and co-founder Pam Birtle

A Christian foster care agency has lost a legal challenge after being told it must stop discriminating against gay prospective carers.

The Sunderland-based Cornerstone (North East) Adoption and Fostering Service had pursued a legal challenge against schools regulator Ofsted after inspectors criticised its policy of only considering heterosexual couples as potential foster patents.

On Tuesday, the High Court ruled that by requiring “applicants to refrain from homosexual conduct”, Cornerstone breached the 2010 Equality Act, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

High Court judge: ‘I reject any suggestion that gay people cannot make wonderful foster parents’.

Mr Justice Julian Knowles wrote in his judgement: “It hardly needs be said, but I categorically reject any suggestion that gay men and lesbians cannot make wonderfully loving foster and adoptive parents, whether they are single or in same-sex partnerships.”

He wrote that while the agency is “permitted to exclusively recruit evangelical Christian carers”, it is not legal to specifically exclude gay carers.

Cornerstone’s legal challenge, which was backed by the anti-LGBT Christian Institute, had accused Ofsted of engaging in “regulatory overreach” by downgrading the adoption agency from “good” to “requires improvement”.

Foster service: The Sunderland-based Cornerstone (North East) Adoption and Fostering Service
The Sunderland-based Cornerstone (North East) Adoption and Fostering Service

However, Ofsted had told the court that it was clear the agency was “directly discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation.”

Anti-LGBT Christian Institute is angry that agency can’t discriminate against gay people.

Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute – which has long opposed same-sex marriage, LGBT+ discrimination protections and transgender rights – said after the ruling: “We believe the judge was mistaken”.

Calvert claimed that the court “failed to recognise that Christian belief informs and shapes every area of life – including sexual ethics and behaviour,” adding: “A decision on whether to appeal will be taken in the coming weeks.”

Cornerstone’s chairwoman, Reverend Sheila Bamber, said in a statement: “I am saddened that the fundamental place of biblically based Christian marriage in our beliefs has not been recognised. We will carefully and prayerfully consider how to continue our vocation and work to create forever families”.

The ruling was welcomed by Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman. She said in a statement: “We are pleased with the outcome of this case.

“The court agreed that Cornerstone independent fostering agency’s recruitment policy discriminates on the grounds of sexual orientation and is unlawful.

“As a public body, Ofsted has a duty to consider whether the organisations we inspect comply with equality and human rights law. This outcome offers much-needed clarity in what is a difficult, complex area of law.”

More: Christian, foster care, High Court

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