Catholic Church in UK Fights Gay Adoption
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The leading catholic bishop in Britain wants catholic adoption agencies to be exempted from a new anti-discrimination law, which he says would force them to place children with gay couples. The equality act, which takes effect in April, prohibits discrimination and good facilities and services on the basis of sexual orientation. The Archbishop of Westminster warns the church maybe forced to close down its adoption agencies.
NPR's Rob Gifford is in London. And Rob, welcome. And is it just the Catholic Church that's subjecting to this law. I gather, also the Anglican Church has had problems with it.
ROB GIFFORD: That's right. The Anglican - the leader of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the number two, the Archbishop of York, have both come out today in a letter to the Prime Minister Tony Blair, saying that they support the Roman Catholic bishop in what he has said, although they're not necessarily applying it to Anglican adoption agencies. They're really lending their moral support to the Catholic Church, and saying, quote, "that the rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation."
They're essentially saying, and they're very careful to say, that they are not against legislation that stops gay people being discriminated against. They don't want gay people to be discriminated against. But at the same time, it causes a problem because in doing this, this could start a new kind of discrimination against people of religious belief who don't feel that they can deliver goods or services as the law requires to gay people, as in the case of this catholic adoption agency.
MONTAGNE: And Rob, what has been the response of gay rights groups?
GIFFORD: Well, gay groups, as you might expect, and not for the first time have been very vociferous in their opposition to what the catholic bishop has said specifically. They have actually called it blackmail, to say that the, for the Catholic Church to say that it will have to close down its adoption agencies; that is basically blackmailing the government to not go ahead with this legislation.
MONTAGNE: And has Prime Minister Tony Blair weighed in, in all of this?
GIFFORD: Well not yet. And he's in around a difficult position because unusually for a British politician, he's a very devout Christian. Christianity - religion generally, does not play nearly as large a role in British public life, and certainly in British politics, as it does in the United States. But Tony Blair is a devout Christian. He's wife is a very devout catholic. And various leaks in the newspapers today suggest that he is actually very much in support of what the catholic bishop has said.
But of course, his government is pushing through this legislation that should allow gay couples to adopt from anywhere. So he is caught in a bit of a bind, and I think it's going to be very difficult for him to reconcile what some people think his religious beliefs with the, obviously, his commitment to this anti-discrimination ruling.
MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, Rob, is there a possibility of a compromise?
GIFFORD: I think compromise is going to be very difficult. And most of the legal officials here have come out and said it's going to be one way or the other. But it's difficult to exempt any agencies from this new ruling.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's Rob Gifford in London.
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