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England Catholics told to toe government line on gay adoption

Roman Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales will not be allowed an exemption from legislation which will require them to accept homosexual couples as potential parents, the British government has announced.

The exemption on grounds of conscience was sought by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, leader of the church in England and Wales, in a letter to all members of the British Cabinet. He was supported by the Muslim Council of Britain.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a statement on 29 January agencies would have to comply with the law on equality, but would be offered a 20-month transition period during which they could refer same-sex couples to other agencies. The law outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the basis of sexual orientation comes into effect on 1 April.
In his statement Blair said: "I start from a very firm foundation: there is no place in our society for discrimination. That is why I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple. And that is why there can be no exemption for faith-based adoption agencies offering public funded services from regulation which prevents discrimination."

Cardinal Murphy O’Connor expressed "deep disappointment" but he did not renew a warning that the agencies might have to close. He said he hoped there might be some way they could continue their work.

He told the BBC Today radio programme on 30 January: "Some legislation, however well intended, in fact does create a new kind of morality, a new kind of norm – as this does. It does seem to me we are having a new norm for what marriage is, because I think normally children should be brought up by a father and a mother." The cardinal emphasised that homosexual couples were able to adopt through other agencies and warned that the British government action risked forcing religious people out of public life.

Earlier, the cardinal’s appeal to the Cabinet had been supported in a cautiously-worded joint letter to the prime minister by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the Church of England, and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. In it they said the personal conscience of Christians was being put at risk.

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