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No ‘opt out’ from equality law: Catholic adoption agency will not be able to discriminate against same-sex couples

Humanists have welcomed today’s unanimous Charity Tribunal decision to throw out the Catholic Care case, following a number of attempts by the adoption agency to gain permission to discriminate against same-sex couples. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has said the decision makes clear that religious organisations may not simply ‘opt themselves out’ of abiding by equality law that binds all other groups providing public services.

The BHA, an equalities and human rights organisation, campaigned vigorously in support of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation Regulations) 2007 (SORs), which prevent discrimination by religious organisations on grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services, including in adoption services. These provisions are now part of the Equality Act 2010, and that is the law which this Charity Tribunal was making its assessments in light of.

Leeds based Catholic Care originally appealed to the Charity Commission in 2007 in light of the SORs, and in the High Court challenged the Charity Commission’s original refusal to allow the organisation to restrict their services to heterosexuals. In March 2010, the presiding Judge, Mr Justice Briggs, instructed the Commission to reconsider the request, which was refused in August. Catholic Care took their case to the Charity Tribunal and lost their appeal today.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips commented, ‘Today’s decision sends a clear signal that religious organisations, including religious charities, providing public services may not simply opt themselves out of a law which prevents discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. When groups are providing public services, not least vital services such as adoption, it is legitimate to prevent unjustified discrimination, as the law seeks to do, in order to ensure that those services are equal, accessible and operate in the interests of those they are helping. Equality of individuals before the law is a cornerstone of a fair and good society, and a principle which has been upheld by today’s decision not to allow Catholic Care to discriminate against gay couples seeking to adopt.

‘Catholic Care has failed to make a convincing case to allow them to breach equality law and discriminate in the provision of adoption services, and the Charity Tribunal decision to throw out the case is to be welcomed. To have permitted an opt out from the law to allow discrimination on grounds of the organisation’s religious ethos and prejudices would be a failure to serve the children who need loving homes, as well as failing to uphold the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people to be treated equally and with respect in the provision of services.’


For further comment or information, contact Naomi Phillips or 07540 257101.

Read the full Charity Tribunal judgement for more details.

Read more about the BHA’s work on equalities, public service reform, and government and ‘faith’ communities

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

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