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.
It would appear that the most senior figures in the English Catholic and Anglican churches have no real idea just how bad they look to a massive number of people right now. Living in something of an ecclesial cocoon, they express "shock" at the reaction to their determination to discriminate. I refer, of course, to the unseemly row over the Equality Act 2006 (due to be implemented on 6 April 2007) and Catholic adoption agencies.
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.
There are serious confusions and contradictions in the position being put forward by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster over his claim that Catholic adoption agencies will be forced to close if the Equalities Act, due to come into force in April 2007, prohibits them from refusing homosexual couples.
As government ministers last night (24 January 2007) made it clear that they would not bow to strong pressure from Catholic and Anglican leaders who wish to retain the right for church-sponsored adoption services to refuse lesbian and gay couples, Harriet Harman, Minister for Justice at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, has reminded churches that it is not possible to be ‚Äúa bit opposed to discrimination‚Äù.
Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, who is the second most senior figure in the established Church of England, and who has himself been the victim of direct racist prejudice in the past, has sought to defend the institutional church against charges of discrimination.
The row over Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor's letter to the Prime Minister and Cabinet ‚Ä' which says that his church's adoption agencies will close if an exemption from equalities rules about lesbian and gay adoptees is not granted ‚Ä' showed no sign of dissipating today.
The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy O'Connor, spiritual head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has said that up to twelve Catholic adoption agencies which handle some of the most vulnerable cases may be closed if they are not given an exemption under new equalities legislation ‚Ä' which seeks to give equal access and fair treatment to lesbian and gay people in the provision of goods and services.
The UK government's Communities secretary, Ruth Kelly, is being accused of trying to water down new anti-discrimination laws to let Catholic adoption agencies turn away lesbian and gay couples ‚Ä' says a report in the Independent on Sunday newspaper.
As a Christian in the UK I'm protected by the law against discrimination - and I'm grateful for it. No one can legally deny me access to goods and services because of my faith. No one is allowed to put a sign up in their hotel window that reads 'No Christians' - or 'No Muslims' for that matter.