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Sunday, January 21, 2007

No kids for gays

They hate gay pengiuns too

Faith & Reason: Ruth Kelly, her hard-line church and a devout PM wrestling with his conscience
Catholic-run adoption agencies should retain the right to ban gay couples, say Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly. Most other cabinet members are horrified at the thought - and the scene is set for a political holy war. Francis Elliott reports
Published: 21 January 2007

She is a devout Catholic and member of the Opus Dei sect. His leanings to Rome have been rewarded with audiences in front of successive Popes.

So, when Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly team up to deny gay couples equal access to church-run adoption agencies, as we reveal today, it is little wonder that their opponents believe it is the "Catholic tendency" at work.

"We are descending into a spiral of immorality," said Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of the Catholic church in Scotland, when that country brought its laws into line with those of the rest of the UK to allow local authorities to place children with gay parents, just before Christmas.

Now, a further change in the law to remove from Catholic-run adoption agencies the right to ban gay people threatens to provoke a full-scale battle throughout the UK.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who is set to become the leader of England's Catholics, recently warned the Government not to "impose on us conditions which contradict our moral values".

"It is simply unacceptable to suggest that the resources of... adoption agencies ... can work in co-operation with public authorities only if the faith communities accept not just the legal framework but also the moral standards being touted by the Government," he sermonised last November.

When it comes to Mr Blair, the archbishop is preaching to the converted, according to senior ministers. The Prime Minister first asked Alan Johnson, then responsible, to include a loophole in anti-discrimination legislation to allow the Catholic ban on gay parents early last year.

When he refused, the PM moved him and handed the equalities brief to Ms Kelly, whom he knew could be trusted to back him on the issue. But a cabinet row last October delayed the introduction of the Equality Act until this April.

Ms Kelly now has to produce the regulations that spell out exactly how the new law will work, and the pressure is building towards an explosive political battle.

Mr Johnson remains implacably opposed to any exemption and is being supported by Peter Hain, Jack Straw, David Miliband, Des Browne and even Mr Blair's close friend Lord Falconer.

For his part, the Prime Minister can count only on Ms Kelly and John Hutton if the issue is pressed to the point of a full meeting of the cabinet committee that settles disputes on domestic policy. Members of the Domestic Affairs Committee, chaired by John Prescott, have been expecting a letter from Ms Kelly on the new regulations for weeks. Her aides say she will send them her proposals this week after further "detailed policy discussions with colleagues".

But Mr Blair can't count on much support among backbenchers. Angela Eagle, who topped a recent election to become the vice-chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and Chris Bryant, MP for Rhondda, have been leading behind-the-scenes efforts to defeat the "Catholic tendency".

In a meeting last week Ms Kelly insisted that her wish to allow church-run adoption agencies to discriminate against gay couples had nothing to do with her own religious sensibilities.

Instead, the Communities Secretary said, she was acting in the best interests of vulnerable children since the Catholic bishops were threatening to close the seven agencies run by the church rather than comply.

The bishops point across the Atlantic at the example provided by the closure of an adoption agency by the Catholic church in Boston after the passing of anti-discrimination laws. It could no longer reconcile its operation with the Vatican ruling that gay adoption was "gravely immoral", it said.

At least in the UK, this is deemed offensive and unacceptable.

posted by Steve @ 12:13:00 PM

12:13:00 PM

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