Citing religious beliefs, two Sefton social workers refuse to work
with same-sex couples who wish to adopt children. What should we
make of it? Is it conscience or prejudice; something deserving
recognition and respect, or something to be deplored?
Screaming tabloid headlines about political correctness gone mad
contribute nothing to the debate. The new Adoption and Children Act
will allow joint adoptions by same-sex couples for the first time
and the challenge facing councils is how best to implement it.
Sefton social services had no choice but to transfer the two
workers to adult services if it was to carry out its legal duties
But this is not simply a question of what it was pragmatic to do in
the circumstances. It is a question of principle. There have been
calls for a “conscience clause” to protect social workers who
object to same-sex adoptions, much as doctors are protected if they
have religious objections to abortion. This is a poor analogy. The
abortion debate concerns profound questions of personal autonomy
and the sanctity of life; there is no corresponding debate in the
case of same-sex couples.
A “conscience clause” for adoption would merely institutionalise
prejudice in social work.