Monday, 11 March 2013

Adoption agency loses charitable status due to discriminatory policies

A Scottish adoption agency must review its approach to placing children with prospective adopters.  This follows a decision by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (“OSCR”) earlier this month.

The OSCR declared that the agency, St Margaret's Children and Family Care Society in Glasgow, was operating in breach of equality laws.

The OSCR reported that the Agency could not be considered a charity because its policies involved “unlawful discrimination, which causes detriment to the public and to particular groups of people, the effect of which outweighs the other positive effects of the charity’s work."

This is because the Catholic Adoption Agency’s policy required that applicants should “have been married for at least two years”.  The OSCR found this constituted unlawful direct discrimination against same-sex couples.

The OSCR’s Head of Registration said, “We have carefully considered the details of this case, and the legal position is clear - the charity must take steps so that it does not discriminate unlawfully and can pass the charity test.  This case was complex and we discussed matters at great length with the charity's trustees. We hope that the charity will respond positively and take the necessary action so that it remains in the Scottish Charity Register.”

Alistair McBay, National Secular Society Spokesman for Scotland, said he hoped the decision would lead St Margaret’s to change its policies and “put the best interests of children first, as many other Catholic adoption agencies have done, and comply with the law by widening the pool of prospective parents to include same-sex couples."

The Agency must now either change its policy to comply with equality law, or else appeal the OSCR decision.

In England, most Catholic adoption agencies have either changed their policies, or closed, in response to the law requiring them to consider same-sex placements.  Catholic Care, based in Leeds, lost a legal battle over the issue in November 2012.  Catholic Care was found to have failed to show there were weighty and convincing reasons why it should be permitted to discriminate against same-sex prospective adopters.

I wrote recently about the latest piece of research in a growing corpus that overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that same-sex adoptive parents are raising children just as successfully as – and sometimes better than - heterosexual ones. 

So for my part, I can’t bring myself to be too upset at the decisions taken in England and Scotland affecting Catholic adoption agencies.  I’m all for freedom of religion, but all too often this is mistranslated as an entitlement to engage in unlawful behaviour if justified by religious dogma.  If these agencies are unable to function if deprived of an opportunity to discriminate against a particular group of prospective adopters, then they should not be functioning. 

Here’s hoping St Margaret’s will feel able to adapt their approach in much the same way as Scotland’s other (now former) Catholic adoption agency – St Andrew’s in Edinburgh did in 2008.  That agency changed its Constitution in order to consider and accept same-sex couples, and indeed single gay men and women, as prospective adopters.

What do others think?  Can there be any legitimate basis, either on religious or other grounds, for adoption agencies to exclude from consideration a particular class of prospective parents?

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