Mr Justice Briggs, sitting in the Chancery Division of the High Court, today allowed an appeal by Catholic Care against a decision of the Charity Tribunal. The question was whether an exception in the Sexual Orientation Regulations would allow charities, like adoption agencies, to discriminate against gay couples that wish to adopt.
Catholic Care acts as a last resort option for ‘hard to place’ children, and has a much better record than those adoption agencies run purely by local authorities. They only offer this service to straight, married couples, in accordance with their religious beliefs. However, they did not, as some in the media have argued, try to justify their selection policy on the grounds of their right to religious belief, and nor should they have.
Rather they seek to justify it because they cannot continue without the financial support of the Catholic Church, and they will therefore have to close, rather than change their policy. Therefore, but for Catholic Care, those children would likely not be adopted at all. It is also important that Catholic Care’s service does not prejudice those with a different policy – plenty of other agencies did not adopt the same stance as the Catholics. This is what will have to be argued before the Charity Commission, now that the High Court has rejected the original analysis that no justification was possible in law.
In that regard, this is quite a narrow decision, being based entirely on an interpretation of the relevant regulation. It will require further litigation by Catholic Care before they are allowed to continue with their goal of housing needy children.
Despite this, it is something of a moral victory for those who feel that a government that would rather see adoption agencies close, in a crusade against any form of discrimination by anyone anywhere, really shouldn’t be so overbearing. For once, the government should try to consider the effects of the law it passes – in this case, on the children who would not be adopted if agencies like Catholic Care had to close, rather than merely the good intentions behind the legislation. Opponents of today’s decision have definitely got the wrong idea – the existence of Catholic Care does not mean that homosexuals cannot adopt. It just means that they cannot force Catholic charities to help them. It is on those ‘freedom of association’ grounds that the moral or ideological battle should be fought, even if the legal battle is waged piecemeal on technicalities.
As an atheist, I have no affinity for the Catholic Church, and don’t agree with Catholic Care’s stance on the issue, but this is the right decision for allowing them to potentially take that stance and provide good homes for needy children.