The Catholic Church has announced that it is ending its relationship with an adoption service in Northern Ireland following changes in legislation that mean the service must accept applications from unmarried and same-sex couples as potential adoptive parents.
The agency in question is The Family Care Society NI. The agency was originally founded by the Church and has offices in Belfast.
Adoption laws were changed in Northern Ireland in 2012 to allow same-sex couples to adopt. The law change was unsuccessfully challenged in the Court of Appeal by previous Health Minister, Edwin Poots. He then tried to appeal to the Supreme Court, but it ruled in October 2013 that there were no grounds for an appeal and dismissed the case.
In a statement on Friday, the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland said, ‘It is unreasonable for legislators to oblige faith-based organizations to act against their fundamental and reasonable religious beliefs in the provision of services that contribute to the common good.’
‘As a result the Family Care Society is now legally obliged to receive and process applications in accordance with the new and wider interpretation of adoption law established by the High Court decision.
‘Since the provision of adoption services in Northern Ireland now also involves acting against the Church’s teaching and ethos, we too have no option but to end the long established relationship between the Church and The Family Care Society NI.
‘The law now makes it impossible for this agency to continue with the support it has enjoyed up to now from the Church.’
The Family Care Society issued a statement on the same day, saying, ‘We are receiving and processing applications in accordance with the new and wider interpretation of adoption law established by the recent High Court decision.
‘Providing vital adoption and support services needed by children and families has always been our focus and will remain so.
‘We look forward to continuing a dialogue with the Northern Bishops over the coming months about the decision they have found it necessary to take; support from the Bishops has greatly assisted FCS in the past, particularly in providing services to adults who were adopted, fostered or raised in a Catholic children’s home.
‘Any funds they make available will continue to be used only for purposes consistent with the Church’s doctrine and ethos.’
According to the BBC, local politician Paul Givan, DUP MLA, said the severing of ties between the two organizations caused him ‘deep disappointment’, and illustrated why he believed that some faith-based organizations should be exempt from such laws.
‘This decision by the Catholic Church is another reminder that our laws do not make provision for those with perfectly legitimate religious beliefs.
‘Just as with Ashers Bakery, the Catholic Church should not have to act in violation of its deeply held religious beliefs. A truly tolerant society should be capable of making space to accommodate difference in our community.’
Ashers Bakery is a Christian-run business that recently refused to make a cake, featuring the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie and a ‘support gay marriage’ slogan, when commissioned to do so by a LGBTI rights group.
Givan is today launching a consultation on a Private Members’ Bill to introduce a ‘conscience clause’ in Northern Ireland, which he hopes would allow some organizations and businesses to be exempt from certain equality laws if they believe that they conflict with their beliefs.