A decision by the Scottish Charities Appeals Panel to uphold an appeal that allows a Catholic adoption charity to prioritise heterosexual couples for adoption cases was wrong, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland.
In January 2013, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator ruled that St Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society, which is based in Glasgow, was breaking equality law by not giving equal access to its services to same-sex couples and ordered the charity to ensure its assessment for potential adoptive parents was not discriminatory.
The charity appealed to the SCAP, which in January 2014 overturned the regulator’s ruling. The charity said it would be contravening canon law if it offered its services to gay couples.
The EHRCS said in a statement on Friday that it had examined the SCAP decision as it related to discrimination law. "The decision is not easy to follow, but it is our view that the Scottish Charities Appeals Panel is mistaken," it said.
The EHRCS is unable to appeal the decision because it has no legal standing in relation to the case, but it has written to the charity saying it should make sure all future applications from couples in civil partnerships are considered in the same way as those from married couples.
It said that the charity submitted information to the appeals hearing stating that in principle it would consider an application for adoption from a couple in a civil partnership.
The EHRCS said it had written to St Margaret’s "advising it to ensure that its published policies and practices properly reflect its stated position that adoption applications from couples in civil partnerships will be considered in the same way as those from married couples; and to ensure that such applications are indeed considered equally".
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, which made the original complaint about St Margaret’s policies, said: "It is a shame that this clearly incorrect appeals ruling will not be challenged. Our own lawyers have told us that the appeal panel's ruling is full of holes but unfortunately we do not have the legal standing to mount a court challenge ourselves."
A spokesman for St Margaret's declined to comment on the EHRCS intervention. But he pointed out that his charity's appeal to be allowed to continue as a charity had been approved unanimously by the SCAP and that the OSCR had subsequently acknowledged that it would not appeal the decision because it would be unlikely to succeed.