Catholic Care are the last remaining Roman Catholic adoption agency in England and Wales continuing to fight the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs).
The law outlawed discrimination against gay couples in the provision of goods and services and was pushed through Parliament in 2007. It meant that Catholic adoption agencies were obliged to assess same-sex couples as potential adopters or foster parents.
Whilst other Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales changed their policies (and severed their ties with the church hierarchy) or closed, last March, Catholic Care won the right to appeal against The Charity Commission which had rejected its plea to an exemption under the Sexual Orientation Regulations.
The reason Catholic Care won this unexpected victory is that the government inserted a clause in the 2007 Equality Act, Regulation 18, which states:
Nothing in these Regulations shall make it unlawful for a person to provide benefits only to persons of a particular sexual orientation, if—
(a) he acts in pursuance of a charitable instrument, and
(b) the restriction of benefits to persons of that sexual orientation is imposed by reason of or on the grounds of the provisions of the charitable instrument.
In other words, charities can continue to discriminate if the stated aim of the charity was to provide services to people of a particular sexual orientation. (This loophole was inserted to ensure that gay charities could not be sued for discrimination by heterosexual couples.) Catholic Care simply wrote an explicit reference to serving heterosexuals into its constitution, and won their case to appeal.
Back in August Catholic Care lost its appeal to restrict its service to heterosexual couples after the Charity Commission found there was no justification for barring gay and lesbian parents.
Andrew Hind – Chief Executive of the Charity Commission – said at the time:
“In certain circumstances, it is not against the law for charities to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. However, because the prohibition on such discrimination is a fundamental principle of human rights law, such discrimination can only be permitted in the most compelling circumstances.
“We have concluded that in this case the reasons Catholic Care have set out do not justify their wish to discriminate.”
Today I’ve learnt that Catholic Care are going to continue the fight and have released this statement:
The Trustees of Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) (“the Charity”) have confirmed that they are appealing the recent decision by the Charity Commission for England and Wales to refuse consent to change the Charity’s objects regarding its adoption services. The amendment sought by the Charity would permit it to restrict the provision of adoption services on the grounds of sexual orientation.
This Charity sought the restriction so that it could continue to offer adoption services in accordance with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and to allow the Charity to rely on Catholic funds.
The Charity needs to draw on these funds as the funding received from local authorities is not sufficient to provide the services to the high standards offered by the Charity.
The Charity filed the appeal on 28 September 2010 with the Charity Tribunal (the First Tier General Regulatory Tribunal (Charity)) which hears appeals against decisions of the Charity Commission. The appeal requests that the Charity Commission’s decision be reviewed.
As this matter has already been heard by the Charity Tribunal and the High Court, a request has been made for the appeal to be transferred to the Upper Tribunal so that this is heard by a panel including a High Court Judge.
A spokesperson for Catholic Care stated:
“We were very disappointed by the Charity Commission’s ruling and the decision to appeal has not been taken lightly. We believe that we have very strong grounds for the appeal and are convinced of our case.
There are many children in need of a family and we want to continue to support families seeking to adopt and children in need of adoption. However, if upheld the Charity Commission’s decision will lead to the closure of the Charity’s services.
The Charity is not seeking to prevent same sex couples from adopting children; the Charity is simply seeking to ensure that it can deliver a valuable service in accordance with both the law and the religious ethos of the Charity.”
No date has been confirmed for the initial hearing but the Charity hopes that it will take place before the end of the year (2010).
Catholic Care have been providing adoption services for over 100 years, time will tell if they can survive Labour’s ‘equality’ legacy.