Rosamund McCarthy: Catholic Care is holding a gun to the head of the Charity Commission

The charity's tactic in its legal case is to claim children will suffer unless the regulator caves in, says our columnist

Rosamund McCarthy
Rosamund McCarthy

A debate has started in Third Sector between supporters of religious charities and secularists (Letters, 9 and 16 March).

I am all for this, but not because I am on a secular crusade, as some readers appear to believe. In fact, one of the reasons that my husband and I parted (very amicably, as it happens) is that he is an atheist and I was on a crusade to convert him.

We exhausted each other with inquisitions for and against the existence of God, but we both agreed that religions should not receive tax breaks, nor should they trump the secular state. So it should not be surprising that I do not support Catholic Care in its continuing attempts to exclude gay couples from its adoption services.

The result of the recent High Court case is that the Charity Commission has been asked to reconsider its original decision. Catholic Care argues that because it works with children who are difficult to place, and because other agencies work with gay couples, its discrimination is proportionate. If it does not limit its service to heterosexual couples - its argument goes - the church will no longer fund it and children will not be adopted.

In making its case, Catholic Care seeks to rely on a loophole in the Sexual Orientation Regulations. Christopher McCall QC, acting for Catholic Care, made highly technical arguments with elegance and flair. But I sense that the charity is holding a gun to the head of the commission: uphold our discriminatory practices, it seems to say, or children will suffer.

Make no mistake, this is a critical decision for the commission. As the Equality and Diversity Commission stated in the High Court, this type of discrimination can never be for the public benefit. The commission should get an urgent grip on the harm caused by religious charities, particularly by their propagation of homophobic views.

Peer-researched evidence shows that gay teenagers who are labelled as sinners and told that they will go to hell suffer great psychological damage.

The Pope's deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, recently said there was a link between homosexuality and paedophilia. The Catholic Church in England has distanced itself from this statement, but that does not help those who suffer daily as a result of religious teachings. Let us all support the commission to make the right decision. This is not a crusade, but an opposition based on evidence of harm.

Rosamund McCarthy is a partner in law firm Bates Wells & Braithwaite. She writes in a personal capacity

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