I’ve never understood why many people are happy to eat cows,
pigs, sheep and certain birds, but then throw their arms up in
disgust at the thought of Koreans eating dogs or the French eating
horses. I’m not sure I would eat dog, but I don’t object if some
people or cultures choose to.
As for sexuality, why a couple would want to whip each other within
an inch of their lives is simply beyond explanation. But, if that’s
your bag, then good luck.
In short, like most people, I am a mixture of personal prejudices,
likes and dislikes, and occasional irrational impulses. I’m happy
to be so, and it doesn’t much bother me that other people are like
that too – provided that somewhere there’s a bedrock of tolerance,
understanding and respect.
But what seems wrong to me is where personal prejudice fuels
discrimination. Should we allow people to discriminate on the basis
of personal prejudices which are rooted in religious, or cultural,
beliefs? This is the issue at the heart of the situation at Sefton
Should there be a conscience clause? My answer is “no”.
Discrimination is discrimination in whatever form it takes. There
are situations and places where discrimination can be justified
(for instance, religious adoption agencies only placing children
with married couples), but the adoption team of a public agency,
such as a local authority, should not be one of them.
As accountable public bodies, councils should uphold the laws,
rules and principles which society, through parliament, government
and the courts, has decided to abide by. These include the concepts
of fairness, equality of opportunity and freedom from harassment or
discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, disability,
religion, age and sexuality.
As professionals working for public bodies, social workers should
uphold and promote such concepts and policies. The option of a
“conscience clause” shouldn’t even be on the agenda.
According to reports, the workers believe same-sex couples can not
provide the right environment for bringing up children. Norah Ellis
is quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying: “Adoption is about
helping children in care… not about issues of the homosexual
It is true that adoption is about helping children in care – about
finding homes for children who have been damaged in some way,
either through abuse or neglect, or who have special needs. Many of
these children have suffered trauma and have attachment,
development and behavioural disorders. Because of this, it is
essential to find adoptive parents capable of taking on the unique
parenting challenges that such children represent. Adopters and
long-term foster carers are a special group of people who are able
to provide secure, stable, loving and supportive homes and families
to children from care.
However, the idea that good parenting is the preserve of
heterosexuals is plainly fanciful. A parent’s sexuality is
irrelevant to what they mean as a parent to the child. If we look
around us, we see more and more lesbians and gay men becoming
parents and caring for children. We don’t try to stop them raising
families. Heterosexuals don’t have a monopoly on families.
What is more important to children’s positive psychological
adjustment are strong and supportive relationships with parents and
caring, positive family environments, not their parents’ sexuality
or sexual orientation. Given the experience many looked-after
children have had of heterosexual families, a gay family might be a
What is behind the desire to invoke a “conscience clause” to ban
same-sex couples from applying to adopt is fear, based on the
stereotype of the “homosexual lifestyle”. Stereotypes contain some
truth, but are by no means representative. A full assessment of a
potential adopter will reveal whether or not their lifestyle is
appropriate for them to adopt, not some pre-conceived, nonsensical
notion of what it is to be gay.
Jonathan Pearce is director of Adoption UK, a charity which
supports adoptive parents
Can Sefton Council’s handling of this case really be said to be
in the interests of vulnerable children? Can anyone be so
intolerant as to oppose the introduction of a “conscience clause”
to give social workers the freedom to act in accordance with their
Care, as a charity which cares for the interests of the most
vulnerable in society, enthusiastically supports most of the
Adoption and Children Act 2002 as it contains important provisions
to improve the adoption process for the 60,000 children in council
care. Our concern always has been that the interests of vulnerable
children should be paramount in adoption.
In the light of this, Care opposed the amendment to extend joint
adoption rights to cohabitees. Our view, based on practical
experience of working with damaged children, was that this change
in the law was unnecessary. Single people (including cohabitees)
could already adopt as individuals. It is not in the best interests
of children to be adopted – a permanent contract – by couples who
are not legally committed to each other – an impermanent
arrangement. Children need stability and all the research strongly
indicates that cohabitation is much less stable than marriage. Our
view was that couples wanting to adopt a child should be committed
to each other through marriage for the sake of the child.
In addition, Care does not believe it was in the best interests of
vulnerable children to be denied, in law, even the possibility of
having either a father or mother figure. Consequently, Care argued
against joint adoption by same sex couples.
Regardless of the personal view individual social workers hold
about same-sex adoption, it is clear that there are caring and
professional social workers who, from the best of motives, do not
think it is in the best interests of children. Although the actions
of Sefton Council again raise issues concerning joint same-sex
adoption, parliament has already decided that this is allowed. The
question is the extent to which individuals should be allowed, as a
matter of conscience, not to use the new freedom the law
In placing children for adoption, social workers are required to
exercise discrimination and good judgement to ensure that the child
and prospective parents represent the best match. The only question
is whether or not the discrimination exercised is reasonable. If
social workers genuinely think that a joint adoption by a gay
couple is not in the best interest of a child, either in single
cases or in general, they should not be forced to act against their
judgement. To deny this discretion is to pre-judge their
It is time to put aside our prejudices and intolerance. Even if the
views of the Sefton social workers represent those of a minority,
the law does accommodate such views. Their only concern is for the
well-being of children. We should trust their integrity and that of
others like them.
Roger Smith is head of public policy for Care, a
mainstream Christian charity that undertakes several social caring
and educational programmes in the UK as well as research and
lobbying onassociated issues.