I have now read the complete letter to Tony Blair from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York about the "Sexual Orientation Regulations". Most of it is a plea for tolerance and sensitivity. We can all agree with that. The last paragraph contains some firm substance:
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.
The interests of the child are paramount in any adoption situation. I have not seen or heard anything to suggest otherwise either with respect to the current or the future adoption framework. I suspect that the Archbishops need some good-old-fashioned reassurance here.
Of course, it would be a shame for volunteers or agencies to withdraw their involvement in the adoption process. But it is difficult to imagine what sort of fair accommodation, consistent with the principle of equal rights, to which the government are committed, could be found to keep Cardinal Cormac Murphy happy.
Given Tony Blair's reported equivocation on this matter, this response from the Prime Minister's spokesman was refreshingly clear:
"This is an issue with sensitivities on all sides and the Prime Minister recognises that and that is why it is worth having some discussions in Government before we come to a decision...Each individual adoption agency must make its judgment on the basis on which it places a child, and the child's interests are paramount. But if we take the view as a society that we should not discriminate against people who are homosexual, you cannot give exclusions to people on the grounds that their religion or their race says 'we don't agree with that'."
Elsewhere, it is reported that the Prime Minister may be considering the compromise of a phased introduction of the new rules for Catholic adoption agencies.
There is one aspect of this which I have not yet fully got my head round: On Newsnight last night, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Birmingham conceded that agencies controlled by the Church already place children with single gay people. It does not seem such a giant leap, then, to allow consideration of gay couples as adopters, if you are already considering single gay people. But maybe I am missing something....
I was anxious to establish whether or not Church of England-aligned adoption agencies, as opposed to the Roman Catholic-aligned agencies, are in a similar predicament to their Roman Catholic colleagues, visa vis the proposed legislation. The answer appears to be "no". I looked up "Parents and children together" (PACT) which is part of the Oxford Diocesan Council for Social Work, and is supported by the Anglican Diocese of Oxford. A statement on their web site says:
PACT confirms that the new regulations would not affect its policy, where couples and individuals are assessed according to their suitability and to the needs of the child.
So it appears that the Anglican Archbishops are merely writing in support of the Cardinal, rather than actually being directly involved in this controversy.
My photos above are of the Anglican Archbishops of York and Canterbury.