A Christian who advised an adoption panel on the medical condition of applicants, but was dismissed for refusing to recommend any same-sex couples as suitable, has lost her claim of religious discrimination.
Dr Sheila Matthews, a paediatrician from Kettering in Northamptonshire, was employed as a medical advisor to one of Northamptonshire County Council’s two adoption panels six years ago.
Her job was to provide medical reports on the physical fitness of couples. But Dr Matthews was barred from the panel after asking to abstain from voting when applications from same-sex couples were being decided.
The Head of Children's Services at the Council, Martin Pratt, stated in a letter to Dr Matthews: "There are three concerns that I have: that we have to comply with the law, that we attract the widest possible range of suitable adopters and that we comply with our own policies.
"I believe that we could not allow a panel member to continue to participate in the process who is unable to consider, on the merits of the application alone, applications to adopt."
Dr Matthews said she did not think that gay couples should ever adopt. In an interview for the Press Association yesterday she said she had 'read a lot' about the issue. “Same sex couples can provide excellent homes and have some incredible skills, but ultimately we are looking for the best for children who have had a rough start and who are vulnerable" she said.
“I have read studies which talk about teasing at school, their reticence about bringing friends home, about difficulties that they face explaining their family set up to others.
“And then there is the long term evidence that youngsters are more likely to become homosexuals themselves if they are brought up in a same sex household.”
Dr Matthews told the employment tribunal she first began researching the issue of same sex adoption after attending a training course on gay, lesbian and bisexual parenting in March 2004.
Matthews’ job was to medically examine couples who applied to adopt, to make sure they were healthy enough to provide a child with long-term care. She then reported to the ten-strong panel made up of councillors, social workers and lay people, of which she was a full member, and had a vote.
She also cited her faith as a reason for believing that gay couples could never be suitable to adopt. She told the hearing: "As a Christian, my faith leads me to believe that marriage between a man and a woman in a faithful, monogamous sexual relationship is the most appropriate environment for the upbringing of children."
The employment tribunal, sitting in Leicester, dismissed her claim of religious discrimination. Concluding a two-day hearing, regional employment judge John MacMillan said she had no case against the council.
He said: "The complaints of religious discrimination fail and are dismissed.
"This case fails fairly and squarely on its facts."
He added: "In our judgment, at least from the time of the pre-hearing review, the continuation of these proceedings was plainly misconceived... they were doomed to fail.
"There is simply no factual basis for the claims."
Mr MacMillan said there was no evidence that Dr Matthews was treated differently from any other panel member who might request to abstain from voting, or that she was specifically discriminated against on the basis of her Christianity.
He said the issue "transcended the boundaries of all religions" and ruled that Dr Matthews should pay the council's legal costs.
Christians have a variety of views on the issue. Denominations such as The Church of Scotland, whilst still believing that marriage provides the most stable environment, have backed proposals for same-sex adoption, saying that the interests of the child are paramount. Gay and Lesbian Christians are also amongst those seeking to adopt.
The first major long-term study of lesbian couples in the US published this month found that children were significantly less at risk of abuse than those with heterosexual couples.
The National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study reported after twenty-four years of research, not a single one of its subjects had ever reported sexual abuse by their parents.