Catholic Care has predictably lost its battle to change its constitution to explicitly allow only heterosexual couples to adopt. It is a blow to religious freedom and difficult to see how the ruling fits in with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that religious conscience rights should not be trumped, unless it is ‘necessary’.
What is concerning about the ruling is that in focusing purely on the perceived discrimination aspect, it seeks to put the rights of prospective adoptive parents above the needs of the child. The Catholic adoption agencies had particular specialist expertise in terms of placing the most difficult children, taking scores out of the care system and putting them in loving families. The legislation underpinning the decision was drafted in order to avoid discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Since when did the adoption of children become a service? It’s rather alarming if children are now consolidated as goods via the law and this decision paves the way for the inevitable gay marriage in Church test case which will occur if or when gay marriage is enacted into law.
The barrister for the Charity Commission also displayed a woeful lack of understanding of Catholic doctrine, by stating that ‘the Church’s belief that homosexuality is sinful’ must not be protected. The Church does not believe or teach that homosexual inclination is sinful, but that all sexual acts outside marriage constitute a sin. The Church understands that people may not be able to control their innate sexuality, however she asks all of her members to exercise appropriate restraint and chastity.
The irritating thing about this case, is that it could have so easily been won. Neil Addison blogged about it on three separate occasions. It’s worth revisiting his posts here, here, and here. Neil maintains that Catholic Care were pursuing entirely the wrong legal remedy and could never have hoped to succeed.
The change that Catholic Care wished to enact was automatically discriminatory and therefore destined to failure as Neil advised back in 2009. Had they amended their constitution as follows:
“The Charity shall not have power to engage in any activity which it knows, or reasonably believes, is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church; the formal opinion of the Bishop of [ ] shall be final in any question as to what is the teaching of the Catholic Church”
then this would have been indirectly discriminatory, rather than directly discriminatory and thus the Catholic agencies would have been able to continue their good work, as has happened in Scotland, who followed this route as did the Evangelical Protestant Alliance.
Of course one still cannot ignore the disturbing ramifications that the judgement has for religious freedom, the Catholic agencies should not have been put in the position where they were forced to chose between the exemplary work that they did or staying true to their ethos, questions need to be asked about why parental rights are put above the needs of vulnerable children and why could there not be scope for several different kinds of agencies. The type of work that the Catholic agencies carried out was as a supplement to local authority agencies, who are free to follow their own secular agendas. Why did there need to be a one-size fits all policy?
But most importantly, questions need to be asked as to why the advice of the Thomas More Legal Centre was not followed in order to allow the Catholic adoption agencies to continue their work unhindered. Rather than asking why we should not fight battles that we cannot win, the question should be why enter into legal battles that were wholly unnecessary in the first place?