British PM ~ No Religious Exemption to Law Forcing Provision of Goods and Services to Gays

By Hilary White

  LONDON, January 29, 2007 ( – British Prime Minister Tony Blair has announced today that there will be no exemptions possible for Catholic adoption agencies who attempt to refuse services to homosexual partners.

“I start from a very firm foundation. There is no place in our society for discrimination,” Blair said. “That’s why I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple.”

“While views obviously differ, everyone is agreed that above all the interests of the children and particularly the most vulnerable children must come first,” he added.

  Blair is expected to announce a “transition period” after the SOR’s come into general effect to allow Churches to become accustomed to compromising their beliefs. Blair said the rules will not come "fully" into force until the end of 2008. In the meantime, Catholic agencies, he said, had a “statutory duty” to refer homosexual couples to other agencies. Blair also added that the House of Commons Labour MP’s would not be allowed a free vote on the issue.

  The PM’s decision has been expected since last week to be in line with his cabinet who, it was said, were appalled and in a state of near revolt over the possibility that he would allow Catholics to act according to their religious principles.

  Blair’s announcement comes in the midst of what some are calling the most serious Church/state crisis in Britain in a century. It also comes at the end of Blair’s long tenure as Prime Minister and leader of his party with polls showing slipping support for Labour.

  The recently-passed Equality Act’s Sexual Orientation Regulations (SOR’s) specify that no one may “discriminate” against homosexuals in the provision of goods and services, including in religious schools, adoption and social aid agencies, hotels or rental facilities.

  Last week, the head of the Catholic Church of England and Wales, Cormac Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, addressed a letter to MP’s saying that Catholic adoption agencies, that handle the bulk of the “difficult” cases of child adoptions, would be forced to close instead of allow the government to coerce their religious conscience.

  The controversy between the government and the Catholic Church over the impending implementation of the SOR’s had by the weekend descended into name-calling with some British MP’s dusting off some of Britain’s nearly-forgotten traditional anti-clerical and anti-papal slurs.

  Cardinal Murphy O’Connor responded today saying he was “deeply disappointed” at the decision. “We are, of course, deeply disappointed that no exemption will be granted to our agencies on the grounds of widely held religious conviction and conscience," he said.

“We look to the forthcoming Parliamentary debate to address some of the fundamental issues centred on the well-being of the child, whose needs must always be put first.”

  British Catholics can expect little from a change in government. The head of the opposition Tories, David Cameron, announced that he also does not favour an exemption for Catholic or other religious agencies or services. He said, however, that his party members would have a free vote.

  The opt-out proposal had the support of some Jewish and Muslim groups, as well as the Church of England’s leadership, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu, Archbishop of York.

  Read previous coverage:
  British Catholic Adoption Agencies Not Likely to be Exempted From Gay Law

  Cardinal Says Church Must be Exempted From British Homosexual Discrimination Law

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