The UK government has announced there will be no exemption from anti-discrimination laws for Catholic adoption agencies, but that they will get 21 months to prepare for change, which will make it illegal to discriminate against lesbian and gay people.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, himself a practicing Anglican married to a Catholic, called the outcome "a sensible compromise". The Catholic Church in England and Wales said it was "deeply disappointed" that no exemption had been offered.
The 2006 Equality Act will face a vote in Parliament in February before coming into effect on 6 April 2007.
A spokesperson for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement told Ekklesia this evening that the decision looked like a ‚Äúreasonable outcome overall‚Äù. Secular groups and the Liberal Democrats have said that the change period is too long.
It remains to be seen whether Catholic adoption agencies will eventually hand their service over to others in the voluntary sector. A similar thing has happened in the USA, after pressure from the Vatican.
Mr Blair commented: "There is no place in our society for discrimination. That's why I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple. [This is why] there can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies offering public funded services from regulations that prevent discrimination."
If the plan is approved, religious agencies will have a "statutory duty" to refer gay couples to other agencies until the end of 2008, the BBC has reported.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who has said that the churches‚Äô agencies will close rather than adopt children to gay couples, admitted that the PM ‚Äúhas listened to some of the concerns of the Catholic Church.‚Äù
The Equality Act, which comes into effect in England, Wales and Scotland, following its implementation in Northern Ireland, outlaws discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the basis of sexual orientation ‚Äì bringing the law into line with provisions outlawing discrimination on the basis of race, gender, disability, age ‚Äì and religion.
Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly described the announcement as a "breakthrough" on what had been an "extremely complex issue".
She has been attacked for allegedly over-accommodating Catholic arguments for an opt-out, which critics say is a clash of interests given her own faith position, and her membership of the Opus Dei movement.
But Ms Kelly‚Äôs integrity has been defended not only by the Evangelical Alliance, which occupies a very different place on the Christian spectrum, but also by gay Anglican priest Martin Reynolds ‚Äì LGCM‚Äôs press officer, who has brought up a fostered son with his partner of 27 years.
Mr Reynolds said last week that he thought many remarks about Ms Kelly had been intemperate and unfair. LGCM and Changing Attitude, an Anglican group affirming the place of gay people in the church, had both opposed an exemption for the Catholic Church.
Simon Barrow, co-director of the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia, writing on the Guardian website last week, had argued that needing to comply with equalities legislation in the public arena ‚Äúmay be the best spiritual outcome for the church‚Äù, recalling it to the anti-exclusionary gospel message.