A Christian adoption agency in the UK acted unlawfully by banning same-sex couples from using its service, a judge has ruled.
The policy, which prevented LGBQT+ couples from fostering or adopting children under its care, was implemented by Cornerstone (North East) Adoption and Fostering Service, in a bid to maintain “the fundamental place of biblically-based Christian marriage”.
The charity required prospective parents and foster carers to “refrain from homosexual conduct”, and refused to accept non-evangelical Christian applicants.
Concerns about the policy were raised by Ofsted in 2019 when an inspection revealed the discriminatory nature of Cornerstone’s application process. The agency’s rating was lowered from “good” to “requires improvement” due to the findings.
Following the decision, Cornerstone launched a High Court challenge against Ofsted because it was “abusing its regulatory function” and was not “neutral in regards to religious beliefs.”
The case, which opened in Sunderland last month, examined the Equality Act of 2010 – which bans sexual and religious discrimination in the U.K. – for clarity.
Justice Julian Knowles said the fostering service did not have the legal right to discriminate based on sexuality, although it could reject applicants based on religion. He ordered the charity to alter its policy to allow homosexual couples to become carers.
Family law experts have branded the case “a landmark victory for equality” in the adoption sphere, with Ofsted’s chief inspector saying it had offered “much-needed clarity in what is a difficult, complex area of law.”
Historically, the plight of homosexual couples looking to become parents has been largely ignored by the law. Until the Adoption and Children Act was introduced in 2002, LGBTQ couples did not have the legal right to adopt a child at all. Even following the act, religious organisations have used the murky nature of discrimination laws to hinder same-sex couples access to fostering and adoption services.
This lack of legal backing has been compounded by the social stigma still surrounding same-sex relationships, with campaigners arguing that by building non-nuclear families, parents were exposing their children to homophobic bullying.
But according to family law experts, this argument is becoming less and less relevant, thanks to advances in the relationship education children receive at school.
In an article for family law advice site Reassured, writer Josephine Walbank explains: “Positive changes are increasingly being witnessed: new research by nfpSynergy, commissioned by Stonewall, found that 60% of British people believe it’s right to teach primary school pupils about different kinds of families, including same-sex parenting.
As of September 2020, all UK secondary schools will be required to teach about sexual orientation and gender identity, and all primary schools will teach about different types of families. This will be a great step towards ensuring that schools and their curriculum encourages diversity and makes your child feel safe and comfortable.”
Family Law for same-sex couples
Gay couples were granted the legal right to enter civil partnerships in 2005, following the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act 2004. A civil partnership is defined as a legally-recognised union of a same-sex couple. Although this historic bill afforded same-sex couples many of the rights enjoyed by married couples, there are still legal differences when it comes to how finances and divorce are dealt with.
According to family law experts at Axiom Stone Solicitors, the dissolution of a civil partnership follows a similar, but crucially different, protocol to a standard divorce.
An Axiom Solicitor said: “Dissolution of a civil partnership involves a similar procedure to ending a heterosexual marriage. To dissolve a partnership, parties must have been in a civil partnership for more than one year.
The party who sends the petition to Court will need to responsible for proving that the civil partnership has irretrievably broken down. The person sending the petition to Court is known as the petitioner. The petition will contain details including the date they entered into the civil partnership, the last address where they lived together as a couple, and whether or not there are any children in the family. The procedure from this point is the same as that of a divorce.”
Luckily, in other areas of the law, the rights of civil partners are almost identical to those of spouses.