In a statement this afternoon (25 January 2007), British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a practicing Anglican married to a devout Catholic, has said that he has always personally been in favour of the right of lesbian and gay couples to adopt, adding that proposals to resolve the dispute with the Catholic Church will be brought forward next week.
"Our priority will always be the welfare of the child," said the PM, while alluding to a possible settlement ‚Äì which may involve statutory referral, a period of ‚Äòadaptation‚Äô for Catholic agencies, or other similar measures. The cabinet is discussing these, but a majority seems to be against watering down the equality proposals.
The PM‚Äôs statement said: "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.
"How do we protect the principle of ending discrimination against gay people and at the same time protect those vulnerable children who at the present time are being placed through, and after-care provided by, Catholic agencies, who everyone accepts do a great job with some of the most disturbed youngsters?
"We will announce a decision next week and then a vote, probably next month. I am committed to finding a way through this sensitive and difficult decision."
The new regulations introduced by the 2006 Equality Act are due to come into force on 6 April 2007 and will make it illegal to discriminate against gay people in the provision of goods and services. They must be approved by both Houses of Parliament before coming into force.
The provisions are part of a process of ensuring universal access and rights, which also includes the elimination of discrimination on grounds of race, religion, gender, age or disability in employment, goods and services.
According to a parliamentary lobby correspondent, communities minister Ruth Kelly, who has responsibility for the legislation, is said to be frustrated by "assumptions" in the media that because she was Catholic ‚Äì and a member of Opus Dei, reportedly ‚Äì she is against gay adoption.
Equalities campaigners will be pleased at Mr Blair‚Äôs personal endorsement of the rules, but talk of ‚Äòa settlement‚Äô may still worry them.
Catholic and Anglican leaders are upset at the public criticism and opprobrium their stance has elicited from politicians, the public, sections of the media and some of their own adherents. But it is not likely they will back down quickly.