Charity Commission: Ruling against Catholic Care should not be overturned
The Charity Commission has stated that permitting Catholic Care to restrict its services to heterosexual couples would set a dangerous precedent for other adoption agencies.
The comments were made last week (12 September) as the Upper Tribunal heard Catholic Care’s latest appeal against a ruling forcing it to offer its adoption services to homosexual couples.
This is the fourth appeal to be made by the Leeds-based agency to overturn a 2008 ruling passed by the Charity Commission prohibiting the agency from changing its constitution to allow it to limit its adoption services to heterosexual couples.
The decision was backed by the Charity Tribunal in April last year after it ruled that the agency could not refuse to place children in the care of homosexual couples due to equality laws prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
But lawyers representing the agency argued last week that its policy not to consider homosexual couples as prospective adoptive parents fell within the exemption for charities under section 193 the 2010 Equality Act which permits sexual orientation discrimination if it constitutes a "proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.
Monica Carss-Frisk QC, for Catholic Care, told the tribunal: "If you bear in mind how paramount the interests of children are then really the only possible conclusion under section 193 is that what we seek to do is a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim."
Carss-Frisk maintained that despite the benefits of its services to children, the agency would lose its funding from the Catholic Church and thus be unable to continue if its existing ‘heterosexual couples only’ policy could not be maintained.
"If the charity can’t get funding and has to stop providing its service, even fewer – in fact no – parents would be passed by the charity," she said. "The tribunal fails to take this into account."
She concluded that the Charity Tribunal had therefore “misdirected itself” in reaching its decision that the effects of refusing applications by same-sex couples outweighed the needs of children requiring adoptive parents.
But the Charity Commission refused to back Catholic Care’s stance stating that overturning the decision against the agency would have far-reaching consequences.
Emma Dixon, representing the Charity Commission said: "A balance of that sort between benefit and detriment is not by itself the test for justifying discrimination in this context or any other.
“Were it so, it could be seen that the provision of any service by a charity on a discriminatory basis could be justified on the grounds that the benefit to the majority group receiving the service will outweigh detriment to the minority group.”
Catholic Care, which has provided adoption services since 1865, is the last adoption agency to continue its fight to retain the freedom to refuse applications from homosexual couples seeking to adopt after laws prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation came into effect in 2008 (now found in the 2010 Equality Act). Since then, all but two of the dozen Catholic agencies have closed or severed their ties with the Church.