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Last Updated: Monday, 29 January 2007, 18:49 GMT
No exemption for church adoption
Couple with pram
New laws would prevent discrimination against gay couples
The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland has said it is studying the impact of an announcement by the prime minister on its adoption agencies.

Catholic adoption agencies will not be exempt from new anti-discrimination laws but they will be given 21 months to prepare for them.

First Minister Jack McConnell described the move "as a step forward".

He said the Scottish Executive would keep in close contact with agencies as the regulations were introduced.

Faith grounds

The Equality Act, due to come into effect in England, Wales and Scotland in April, outlaws discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the basis of sexual orientation.

Gay groups and some MPs have argued that there could be no exemption for discrimination on faith grounds.

Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales had warned they would close rather than place children with gay couples, saying that went against their beliefs.

The Catholic Church in Scotland said it had been given assurances in December when the executive passed a bill allowing same-sex adoption that it could continue to set criteria blocking gay couples.

Those assurances could fall foul of Westminster's Equality Act.

This is undoubtedly a difficult issue but I think the prime minister's announcement is a step forward
Jack McConnell

Following the announcement that there would be no exemption, Mr McConnell said: "For me, adoption is all about improving the lives of children.

"My priority is to find a way that will allow faith-based adoption agencies in Scotland to continue finding new parents for some of our most vulnerable children."

The first minister said he spoke to the prime minister over the weekend.

"Above all, I hope it enables faith-based agencies to continue the valuable work they do with children in Scotland," Mr McConnell said.

"We will of course continue to keep in close contact with Scottish adoption agencies as these regulations are introduced."

Public life

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said he was disappointed with the announcement and planned to study the new regulations to see if there was any way the adoption agencies can continue.

He added: "The offer of delayed implementation, however, is meaningless.

"It will be no easier for Catholic agencies to act contrary to conscience in 21 months time than it is now.

"This decision has wide ramifications. The issue of Catholic adoption agencies is just the tip of the iceberg.

"These regulations could compel religious organisations either to renounce their activities or be removed from public life."

The spokesman accused the prime minister of undermining the Scottish Executive while ignoring the appeals of religious leaders in order to "placate a powerful lobby group".


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Possible implications for the Catholic Church in Scotland



SEE ALSO
No exemption from gay rights law
29 Jan 07 |  UK Politics
Church seeks adoption assurances
25 Jan 07 |  Scotland
Bishop joins row over gay rights
23 Jan 07 |  Scotland
Cardinal denies 'blackmail' claim
23 Jan 07 |  UK Politics
Catholic threat on gay rights law
23 Jan 07 |  UK Politics
Church gay rights opt-out opposed
21 Jan 07 |  UK Politics

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