Comment: The politics of religion and gay adoption

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The debate over exemption for religious groups from the Equality Act exposed a division within the government and the country.

While we don’t know exactly what happened behind closed doors, it appears that Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality, was persuaded by her friends within the Catholic Church to exempt their adoption agencies from being forced to treat gay and lesbian couples in the same way that they would a straight couple.

The Prime Minister, another fan of religion, was also minded to allow Roman Catholics to opt out of gay rights legislation on the grounds of conscience.

Ms Kelly is the Minister for gay rights who has managed never to vote for gay rights legislation.

The Church of England supported the Catholics on principle, but the Anglicans were going to open up their agencies to gay couples anyway.

The Roman Catholic position seemed non-sensical.

Their adoption agencies, who are rightly praised for the work they do in placing some of the most difficult children, will accept single gay people as adoptive parents.

They will even accept atheists.

It is just gay couples they cannot find it in their hearts to accept.

The best interests of the child should always be the criteria on which adoption agencies act.

How can it be that one gay man is a good option but two is such an abomination that the Roman Catholic Church would rather close down adoption agencies rather than consider them?

The main Jewish adoption agency, Norwood, on the other hand, said that it was happy to consider gay couples as parents.

This is despite the fact that the Jewish Torah is rather explicit when it comes to its condemnation of gay sex (for men rather than women).

Why? Because for them, the child comes above their own views. What is best for the child is at the heart of every decision.

In the end, thanks to Education Secretary (and candidate for Labour Deputy Leader) Alan Johnson’s threat to quit if any groups were exempted from the Act, not to mention huge amounts of anger from his own backbench MPs, the Prime Minister and Ms Kelly gave in.

He announced that there would be no exemptions in equality legislation.

He chose the right side of the argument.

Mr Blair, who regularly attends Mass with his devoutly Catholic wife and Roman Catholic-educated children, did give the adoption agencies something.

They will have until the end of 2008 to get used to the new arrangements.

Then they will have to comply or close.

In Scotland, there is confusion as to whether the informal arrangement that would have allowed Scots Catholic adoption agencies, all two of them, to turn away gay couples is still valid.

Even after the Prime Minister’s statement, the Catholics are still fighting.

The Catholic Church’s position continues to puzzle me.

I read Religion, Philosophy and Ethics at King’s College London so I’m no stranger to theological debates.

Correct me if I’m wrong (and I’m not) but Jesus never really strayed into the issues of homosexuality.

Granted he did advocate heterosexual relationships (despite not having one himself- unless you believe the DaVinci Code) but never explicitly condemned same sex relationships.

So in reality the Catholic objections to gay relationships stems from a couple of the 613 laws contained within the Torah.

They set aside the laws relating to circumcision and abstaining from pork and shell fish.

It’s funny that the Catholic bishops kicking up such a fuss over gay relationships and adoption seem to conveniently ignore the bulk of the other rules contained in the Torah.

Here’s one they should maybe follow:

“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” Leviticus 19:18

Benjamin Cohen is founding publisher of and a correspondent for Channel 4 News