A regulator for charities in England has rejected a Catholic agency's bid to limit its adoption services to heterosexual prospective parents.
Catholic Care, the social care organization of the Diocese of Leeds, expressed disappointment in the decision that was announced Thursday.
"Catholic Care will now consider whether there is any other way in which the charity can continue to support families seeking to adopt children in need," a spokesperson said in a statement.
The group had applied to the Charity Commission to amend its constitution so that it could continue its adoption work in accordance with the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church – namely allowing only married heterosexual couples to adopt. Essentially, the group was applying for exemption from anti-discrimination laws.
The charity has argued that if it cannot limit its services, it would have to close its adoption service in order to keep its connection with the Roman Catholic Church and the funding that this brings.
But the commission concluded "that it would not be justified in the circumstances for the charity to discriminate in this way."
"In certain circumstances, it is not against the law for charities to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation," said Andrew Hind, the commission's chief executive. "However, because the prohibition on such discrimination is a fundamental principle of human rights law, such discrimination can only be permitted in the most compelling circumstances. We have concluded that in this case the reasons Catholic Care have set out do not justify their wish to discriminate."
The commission recognized that Catholic Care offers "a valuable, high quality adoption service." At the same time, however, it noted that it is in the interests of children that "the pool from which prospective parents are drawn is as wide as possible."
In March, the High Court had ruled in favor of Catholic Care, allowing the charity to amend its constitution. The Charity Commission was ordered to consider the case again but it ultimately concluded that the Catholic Care's policy violated European human rights laws.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation in the provision of goods and facilities to the public is prohibited under the 2007 Equality Act.
Ann Widdecombe, a former Conservative Party minister, told Catholic News Service that the decision reveals how Christians in Britain have very few rights.
"There is a world of difference between expecting you to live in a society where people do different things and have different values and living in a society where people are forced actively to facilitate things that are against their consciences," she told CNS.
Catholic Care has been providing specialist adoption services for over 100 years, helping hundreds of children and families.