Only a partial victory for religious freedom

Today’s news that a Catholic adoption agency in the UK has been allowed to continue to refuse to place children with same-sex couples because of a legal loophole is good news for other similar agencies in the UK, who will now hopefully be able to continue to provide their services to the community.

Is it good news for religious freedom? Yes and no. The agency, Catholic Care, made its case on the basis of a legal loophole, designed in fact to allow gay rights charities to provide their service only to people with a homosexual orientation.

Catholic Care took advantage of this and said that if gay rights agencies can discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, then they should be allowed that same freedom.

As such, the ruling will allow Catholic Care, which serves a number of dioceses in Northern England to provide services according to its Catholic ethos.

But because they won their victory effectively on a technicality, this isn’t really a victory for the principle of religious freedom itself.

Thus, there is still plenty of work to do to get the legal and political elites to accept that a pluralist society should make room for religion and religious service providers in the public square.

That goes double for Ireland. Since we don’t have any specialised Catholic adoption agencies here, it is easy to miss the point that our Equal Status Act would also force such agencies to place children with same-sex couples, or else choose between closing or ending their links with the Catholic Church which is what some agencies did in the UK.

Our Act also forces all service providers, both State and other institutions, to provide services without discrimination on any ground, including the ground of sexual orientation.

This highlights exactly why, if we are serious about safeguarding religious freedom, we need to amend the Equal Status Act along the lines of the Employment Equality Act which does respect religious freedom.