In an important test case, a Catholic adoption agency is asking a High Court judge to grant it the right to deny its services to same-sex couples in accordance with the tenets of the Church.
Catholic Care is instrumental in finding new homes for ‘hard to place’ children in the Leeds area and argues that its voluntary activities save the public purse about £10 million-a-year.
However, the charity says that, if it is forbidden by equality and anti-discrimination laws from restricting its services to married heterosexual couples, the church collections and other voluntary donations that fund it will inevitably dry up and it will be forced to close.
Catholic Care is asking Mr Justice Sales, sitting in the Upper Tribunal, to sanction a change in its charitable objectives so that it can lawfully turn away same-sex couples as prospective adopters.
However, lawyers for the Charity Commission argue that drawing a distinction between same-sex and heterosexual couples would amount to a breach of the Equality Act 2010 and a violation of the ban on discrimination contained in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Lawyers for Catholic Care argue that, if the charity's principled objections to placing children with same-sex couples are not acknowledged, ‘the alternative is that the services are not provided at all, to the detriment of children in need of adoption.’
Catholic Care has a proven track record of finding homes for hard to place children and argues that, for every child removed from the care system and placed with adoptive parents, local authorities save about £1 million.
Support given by the Catholic community is dependent on the charity operating in line with the Church's understanding of the family unit and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds had said that church collections could not be sanctioned for an ‘open’ adoption service.
The charity’s barrister said: ‘The question in this case concerns the activities of a particular charity and the proportionality of permitting it to restrict its adoption services to married couples when the alternative is that it provides no adoption services at all’.
Referring to the charity's ‘unusual predicament’, she said that the Charity Commission's focus on the rights of same-sex couples was ‘tantamount to putting the interests of the helper before those of the helpless.’
Arguing that Catholic Care's work is consistent with human rights laws generally, she told the judge: ‘There can be relatively few social problems more acute than the adoption crisis in England and Wales. The contribution of the charity to seeking to resolve that problem is accepted by all sides to be important and significant.’
Mr Justice Sales is expected to reserve his decision on the case until a later date.