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Blair: No exception for faith groups on gay adoption
Mon Jan 29, 3:43 PM ET
British Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted there could be no exemption from forthcoming sexual orientation laws for faith-based adoption agencies who refuse to place children with gay couples.
The Catholic Church of England and Wales dug in last week for a battle with the British government over the proposed laws, which would force their adoption agencies to consider placing children with homosexuals.
Blair said he supported the right of gay couples to adopt, so there could therefore be no exemptions.
But the prime minister said in a statement that the new rules would not take effect until the end of 2008 and until then there would be a "statutory duty" for religious agencies to refer gay couples to other agencies.
Blair's wife Cherie is a Catholic and he had been thought to be sympathetic to the Church's position, amid press reports that he and members of his government had been divided on the matter.
The Catholic Church, which has gained a reputation for finding families for children with behavioral and physical problems, warned that their adoption agencies could be forced to close if local authority funding was removed.
The Church of England, a Protestant Church, has thrown its support behind the Catholics.
Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said he was "deeply disappointed" that the Church had not been granted an exemption, adding that "there is an urgent task to reach a new consensus on how best the public role of religious organisations can be safeguarded and their rights upheld."
He said in a statement: "It is clear from the Prime Minister's statement that he has listened to some of the concerns of the Catholic Church in regard to its adoption agencies."
"We are, of course, deeply disappointed that no exemption will be granted to our agencies on the grounds of widely held religious conviction and conscience."
The Christian Institute, a charity which seeks to promote Christianity in Britain, condemned Blair's statement.
"It is a very sad day for children in care. The government has decided to put gay rights first ahead of what is best for them," Christian Institute's director Colin Hart said.
"Telling religious adoption agencies they have until 2008 to change their practice or pack their bags is no comfort at all," he said.
"If Roman Catholic adoption agencies can be closed down because of their sincerely-held religious beliefs on sexual ethics then who is next? Christian nursing homes? Christian homes for the elderly?" he asked.
"The government is putting up a sign over the UK saying 'Christians are not welcome here," he said.
However, the announcement was welcomed by human rights campaigners today.
"We applaud the government for standing firm on equal treatment, even when the going appeared tough," said Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty.
"Parents are not gay, straight, black or white -- just hopefully loving and caring," she said.
Stonewall, which campaigns for equality for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, also welcomed the news.
Alan Wardle, director of Public Affairs for the group, said: "We warmly welcome this announcement as a victory for 21st century tolerance.
"The transitional period will give adoption agencies time to adapt and we see no reason why any of them should have to close."