Church-backed adoption agency told to change rules on gay couples
Charity regulator says Glasgow-based St Margaret's adoption agency fails the charity test.
23 January 2013 19:43
Pic: © STV
An adoption agency backed by the Catholic Church has been warned it could be stripped of its charitable status unless it gives equal consideration to gay couples.
The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) said St Margaret's Children and Family Care Society in Glasgow was directly discriminating against same-sex couples by giving priority to people who have been married for at least two years.
The charity has been given until April 22 to change its adoption criteria or face losing its charitable status for failing to provide a "public benefit".
The decision follows a compliant by the National Secular Society that St Margaret's was acting in breach of the 2010 Equality Act.
St Margaret's gives priority in adoption cases to prospective parents who have been married for at least two years and intend to raise children in the Catholic faith.
The report said: "The charity's preferred criteria prioritise couples who have been married for at least two years: marriage is not available to same-sex couples and this constitutes direct discrimination.
"Since it is discriminating in breach of equality law, OSCR finds that access to the benefit the charity provides in assessing prospective adoptive parents is unduly restricted.
"OSCR also finds that this discrimination causes disbenefit to same-sex couples.
"For these reasons OSCR finds that the charity does not provide public benefit and it therefore fails the charity test."
St Margaret's Children and Family Care Society is partly funded by the Catholic Church and the trustees of the charity include bishops from dioceses in the west of Scotland.
The Scottish Catholic Church has said it will respond to the report in due course.
OSCR's head of registration, Martin Tyson, said: "We acknowledge the valuable service provided by this charity, but the fact is that all charities must comply with the law, including the Equality Act 2010. Where we find this is not the case, we have a duty to act.
"We have carefully considered the details of this case, and the legal position is clear - the charity must take steps so that it does not discriminate unlawfully and can pass the charity test.
"This case was complex and we discussed matters at great length with the charity's trustees. We hope that the charity will respond positively and take the necessary action so that it remains in the Scottish Charity Register."
Alistair McBay, Scottish spokesman for the National Secular Society, said: "This kind of crude discrimination is no longer acceptable in our society - and that goes double where the discrimination is, in effect, being largely financed by the public purse.
"Arguably more important than depriving gay couples of adoption is that St Margaret's policy restricts the pool of adoptive parents, including gay parents, some of whom the regulator acknowledges have special skills that would be especially appropriate with hard-to-place children.
"If St Margaret's wishes to continue to provide services, it must remove these provisions from its constitution - this will be in the children's best interests. In England, some of the Catholic agencies complied and are now providing their services to everyone without prejudice.
"We hope that St Margaret's will continue to fulfil its valuable role, even if it has to sever its connection with the Catholic Church."