A leading Catholic lawyer has warned that Catholic charities across Britain are at risk from equality laws after an adoption agency was told it could lose its charitable status.
The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator ruled that St Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society in Glasgow is directly discriminating against gay people by refusing to place children in the care of same-sex couples.
The regulator said that although the charity provides a valuable service, it believed its current practice was unlawful, and gave it three months to change.
The ruling came about after a complaint by the National Secular Society.
Martin Tyson, the Scottish Charity Regulator’s head of registration, 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.”
But Neil Addison of the Thomas More Legal Centre said the regulator threatening to remove the agency from the charities’ register was “surprising”.
He said: “There is an exemption in the Equality Act for charities. If what they’re doing is breaking the Equality Act there is a procedure for challenging it, for saying what they’re doing is unlawful.
“It’s a gross overreaction. It’s like closing down an entire hospital because one small section is in breach of health and safety.
“If they’re right, then the exemption in the Equality Act is worthless, because if you break the Act then you are not a charity. It’s a completely circular argument.”
Mr Addison also said that the ruling had implications for other areas of equality law, including the Government’s “quadruple lock” protecting religious groups in the event of gay marriage.
“It’s going to stop all sorts of Catholic charities which are arguably in breach of the Equality Act. If you apply this logic, what’s to stop the regulator refusing to register a church or diocese as a charity?
“It is very worrying. I think the regulator is going way beyond its powers and remits.”
Education Secretary Mike Russell said he was “disappointed” by the decision. He said: “We do not believe that this outcome is in the best interests of the children St Margaret’s helps, who are in need of a safe and loving family home.”