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Britain stands firm in gay adoption row with Catholics
by Lachlan Carmichael
Thu Jan 25, 11:56 AM ET
The British government stood firm in a row with the Catholic church over proposed laws on adoption by gay couples, which clerics say run counter to Vatican teaching on homosexuality.
But Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was still trying to find a compromise on the law, which would force Catholic adoption agencies to consider placing children with gay couples.
"I have always personally been in favour of the right of gay couples to adopt," he said, but added: "I am committed to finding a way through this sensitive and difficult decision."
Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has warned that the new law could force the closure of Vatican-backed adoption agencies, known in particular for finding parents for children with difficulties.
Alan Johnson, minister responsible for adoptions, rejected demands that those Church agencies be exempt from a rule requiring them to consider offering children for adoption by gay couples.
Asked on BBC radio if he thought the government would resist calls for an exemption, Johnson said: "Yes, I do." He also downplayed suggestions of a rift within the British cabinet over the issue.
Murphy-O'Connor wrote to Blair earlier this week warning that the Church would have to close its adoption agencies if legislation forced them to act against their beliefs.
He has received support from the Protestant Church of England.
A spokeswoman from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales said her Church was still awaiting an official government response, adding: "Our concern for the welfare of severely disadvantaged children remains."
Catholic adoption agencies have won a reputation for finding families for children with severe behavioral and physical problems.
Blair said the government was still working on proposals that would prevent gays from suffering discrimination and protect vulnerable children who have benefited from adoption through Catholic agencies.
"Both gay couples and the Catholic agencies have a high level of success in adopting hard-to-place children. It is for that reason we have taken time to ensure we get these regulations right," he said.
"We will announce a decision next week and then vote, probably next month," he added.
Johnson appeared to indicate that vulnerable children could still find homes if the Catholic agencies closed as a result of the row.
"The primary concern, of course, has to be the children concerned in the adoption process and I very much hope the Catholic Church does continue to provide the important service that they do," he said.
"But if they don't, I think we can ensure that children are not disadvantaged by that," he added.
Asked whether Blair's view was against exemption, he replied: "Yes, I think it is."
The proposals are reported to have caused a cabinet split, with Blair and Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, a prominent Catholic, favoring an exemption, and colleagues including Lord Chancellor Lord Charles Falconer, insisting that the rules should apply equally to everyone.
Johnson denied reports that he had led a movement against Blair in cabinet over the issue. Blair's wife Cherie is a Catholic and he is thought to be sympathetic to the Church's position.
"I didn't lead a movement against anybody," Johnson said.
Churches set to lose appeal on UK gay adoption law
By Jeremy Lovell
Thu Jan 25, 9:50 AM ET
A bid by the Catholic and Anglican Churches in Britain to exempt Catholic adoption agencies from being forced to place children with gay couples got Muslim backing on Thursday but still looked set to fail.
The Equality Act, which comes into force in April, is designed to stop discrimination against gay and lesbian couples wishing to adopt a child, but the Church leaders called for an exemption for Catholic adoption agencies on faith grounds.
On Thursday, Muslims voiced support for the exemption and described the government's apparent rejection as absurd.
"The Muslim Council of Britain fully supports the principled stand taken by the leaders of the Catholic and Anglican Churches," it said in a statement, adding that homosexuality is banned in Islam.
The battle between Church and state involved British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was said to have favored an exemption, risking a revolt by most of his ministers and underscoring the weakness of his position in the closing months of his premiership.
But on Thursday Education Minister Alan Johnson, who has responsibility for adoption, said the government, including Blair, saw no case for special treatment.
"I don't see a case for exemption and I don't think the prime minister does," he told BBC radio.
"The case for no exemption has been made very eloquently. The strength of that argument suggests that we cannot introduce legislation to protect gays and lesbians against discrimination and at the same time allow that discrimination to continue."
Blair said a decision would be taken next week and that while he favored the right of adoption by gay couples he also wanted to ensure the Catholic agencies continued their work.
"I have always personally been in favor of the right of gay couples to adopt. Our priority will always be the welfare of the child," he said. "I am committed to finding a way through this sensitive and difficult issue."
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, and Archbishop of York John Sentamu wrote to Blair on Wednesday backing a call by the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor for the special exemption.
Murphy-O'Connor's letter to Blair argued that to force Catholic agencies to place children with gay or lesbian couples went against the Church's teachings.
"We believe it would be unreasonable, unnecessary and unjust discrimination against Catholics for the government to insist ... Catholic adoption agencies must act against the teaching of the Church and their own consciences," he wrote.
Murphy-O'Connor said it would be a tragedy if the agencies were forced to close as this could put some 4,000 children awaiting adoption at a disadvantage.
Despite a similar reaction to an equal rights law on adoption in the United States, so far Catholic adoption agencies in only two cities have shut.
Johnson said the Church leaders' pleas were a minority view and Jewish and Anglican adoption agencies had made no such call.
"I very much hope that the Catholic Church does continue to provide the important service that they do. But if they don't, I think we can ensure that children are not disadvantaged by that," he said.
"We want to try and find a way through," he said, suggesting a transition period before Catholic agencies had to comply.
The 12 Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales handle around one third of all voluntary sector adoptions.
(Additional reporting by Sophie Walker and Paul Majendie in London and Michael Conlon in Chicago)