The escalating row between the Catholic Church and the Government over the Sexual Orientation Regulations is widely reported this morning. The Telegraph reports that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has won the support of the two most senior figures in the Church of England in his bid to exempt Catholic adoption agencies from new laws that could force them to place children with same-sex couples.
For The Telegraph and The Daily Mail the freedom of churchgoers is the key issue at stake. A leader in The Telegraph argues that the 2006 Equality Act throws up many anomalies. "A Muslim printer," it writes, "could be charged for declining to publish a handout for a gay pride march. Yet a private club – a lesbian-only bar, say – could still specify a particular sexual orientation as a condition for membership." It notes positively the proposition of 'a simple amendment... to stop adherents of Christianity, Judaism and Islam being forced to "assist, encourage or facilitate homosexual practices."
The leader-writers at The Mail (not yet online) are also on the side of Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor:
"All the cardinal is doing - backed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York - is spelling out the teaching of his Church, stretching back 2,000 years and shared by many other faiths. Nor is he trying, like the gay rights lobby, to impose his own morality on the rest of the country. Indeed, Catholic agencies are happy to direct gay couples to other agencies. The cardinal is only asking that Catholics should be allowed to continue to conduct their own lives according to the teaching of their Church. Is that so very unreasonable?"
This is only the latest clash between Britain's Catholics and the Government. Late last year Education Secretary Alan Johnson had to retreat from plans to compel Catholic schools to accept approximately 25% of non-Catholic pupils. It is interesting that the Conservative Party has largely been as silent in this dispute as it was conflicted in the schools row. I cannot find any Conservative comments on the clash between the rights of gay people to adopt and the rights of church organisations to manage their own affairs. It is another sign of the lack of choice in British politics that there does not appear to be one mainstream political party that is unashamedly the champion of freedom of religious association.