Adoption charities must justify equality law exemption

Charity Tribunal rules on Catholic organisations that discriminate against homosexual parents

The two Catholic adoption charities appealing against the Charity Commission's decision preventing them from discriminating against homosexual parents must demonstrate that the public benefit arising from their activities is enough to justify their exemption from new equality law.

Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds)
and Father Hudson's Society appealed to the Charity Tribunal last December after the commission refused to allow them to introduce a clause into their objects saying they would not place children with homosexual foster parents.

The charities wanted to take advantage of an exemption in the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 that permits charities to discriminate on the grounds of "the provisions of a charitable instrument", such as a governing document (Third Sector, 10 December 2008).

After a preliminary hearing in February, the tribunal has concluded that the exception can be used if the charities can show that the public benefit their activities produce is "sufficiently linked" to their ability to discriminate.

The tribunal also accepted the charities' argument that their range of beneficiaries included parents as well as children. The commission had argued that the exemption would not apply to adoption charities because benefits to foster parents were merely incidental (Third Sector Online, 2 December).

Another directions hearing will be arranged within a fortnight to decide how the case should be taken forward. The tribunal does not have the power to substitute its own decision for that of the commission, but can quash the commission's original decision and refer the case back to it.

A number of other Catholic adoption agencies have broken their links with the church and removed the word 'Catholic' from their names in order to continue running their services in line with the new equality law.

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