The gay adoption issue in the UK

Update: See Stephen Bates’s insightful blog entry on this issue.

I have avoided comment on the flap in the United Kingdom regarding the new Sexual Orientation Regulations recently passed by parliament, largely because I haven’t followed the story closely enough to have an intelligent opinion. (I recommend this as a spiritual discipline.) But today I want to offer a few resources for those of you interested in following the thinking of the archbisops of Canterbury and York on this issue.

The archbishops yesterday wrote a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair which is available under the continue reading tab. In it, they back the Catholic Church’s position that it should be exempt from a provision in the new law that makes it illegal for adoption agencies to refuse to place a child with a gay couple. Simon Sarmiento has full coverage at Thinking Anglicans.

Meanwhile, the Mad Priest “looks the other way and pretends he is not with them.” And do have a look at the photo at the bottom of this entry.

I am not sure I buy the archbishops’ argument. Suppose for the moment that the government had established the laws in question before the Catholic Church began operating adoption agencies. Would the Church’s decision to open agencies mean that the laws had to be changed? I don’t think so. The Church would be told that it doesn’t have to involve itself in this ministry if complying with the laws of the land require it to compromise its beliefs. In this case, the fact that the Church is already in the adoption business certainly complicates matters from a pastoral perspective, but it doesn’t bear on the principle.

That said, (he equivocated) I think you can also argue that the existence of adoption agencies that will place children with gay couples argues on behalf of a certain leeway for those that do not want to do so. But I don’t know how you write “a certain leeway” into law.

For extra credit, give these questions some thought: Would the archbishops’ line of reasoning make it possible for Catholic pharmacists to deny customers contraceptives? Would it allow, say, a nationwide chain of drugstores owned by a Catholic to refuse to stock condoms or provide contraceptives?

What do you make of the statement: “The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well meaning.”

Letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the Prime Minister

The following is the text of a letter dated 23 January 2007 from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Tony Blair.

Dear Prime Minister,

The Church of England, along with others in the voluntary sector, including other churches and faith communities, have been in discussion with the government for some time over what has become known as the Sexual Orientation Regulations. Those discussions have been conducted in good faith, in mutual respect and with an appropriate level of confidence on all sides.

Last week that changed. Speculation about splits within government, fuelled by public comment from government ministers, appears to have created an atmosphere that threatens to polarise opinions. This does no justice to any of those whose interests are at stake, not least vulnerable children whose life chances could be adversely, and possibly irrevocably, affected by the overriding of reasoned discussion and proper negotiation in an atmosphere of mistrust and political expediency.

The one thing on which all seem able to agree is that these are serious matters requiring the most careful consideration. There is a great deal to gain. It is becoming increasingly evident, however, that much could also be lost, as the letter from Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor makes clear.

Many in the voluntary sector are dedicated to public service because of the dictates of their conscience. In legislating to protect and promote the rights of particular groups the government is faced with the delicate but important challenge of not thereby creating the conditions within which others feel their rights to have been ignored or sacrificed, or in which the dictates of personal conscience are put at risk.

The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well meaning.

On numerous occasions in the past proper consideration has been given to the requirements of consciences alongside other considerations contributing to the common good, such as social need or human rights – the right, for example, of some doctors not to perform abortions, even though employed by the National Health Service.

It would be deeply regrettable if in seeking, quite properly, better to defend the rights of a particular group not to be discriminated against, a climate were to be created in which, for example, some feel free to argue that members of the government are not fit to hold public office on the grounds of their faith affiliation. This is hardly evidence of a balanced and reasonable public debate.

As you approach the final phase of what has, until very recently, been a careful and respectful consideration of the best way in which to introduce and administer new protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in England and Wales, we hope you, and cabinet colleagues, will do justice to the interests of the much wider grouping of interests within the nation that will be affected. It is vitally important that the interests of vulnerable children are not relegated to suit any political interest. And that conditions are not inadvertently created which make the claims of conscience an obstacle to, rather than the inspiration for, the invaluable public service rendered by parts of the voluntary sector.

Yours faithfully,

Most Rev and Rt Hon Rowan Williams Archbishop of Canterbury Most Rev and Rt Hon John Sentamu Archbishop of York

Editors Note:

Reference is made above to a letter from Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor. That letter can be read here.

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