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U.K.'s Blair says
no exemption for religious organizations

U.K.'s Blair says
no exemption for religious organizations

British faith-based adoption agencies will not be exempt from regulations compelling them to consider gay couples as prospective parents, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday. The Roman Catholic Church, backed by other religious groups, last week asked Blair to excuse faith-based agencies from complying with regulations aimed at preventing discrimination against gays. After meeting with religious and gay rights groups, Blair rejected the request, and he issued a statement saying there "is no place in our society for discrimination.... That is why I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple. And that is why there can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies offering publicly funded services from regulations which prevent discrimination." Blair said the agencies would be given a period of time to come into line with the regulations, which will come fully into force at the end of 2008. Until then faith-based groups will be required to refer gay couples to other adoption agencies. Earlier Monday opposition leader David Cameron said he did not support an exemption for the faith-based adoption agencies; that stance put him at odds with others in his party."I shall vote for the regulations, because I think it is right to have in this country clear rules against discrimination," Cameron told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "On the issue of the Catholic adoption agencies, I don't think personally that it is right to give them a block exemption from the law, because otherwise we will have other people wanting block exemptions from the law." He said a "decent compromise"--perhaps "three to four extra years"--was necessary to let the groups work out solutions. The regulations, part of the Equality Act, will be voted on by British lawmakers in the next few weeks; amendments will not be accepted, and the vote will decide if the regulations will be implemented or rejected entirely. The act is to come into effect in April. The disagreement surfaced last week, when church officials said Catholic adoption agencies would be forced to shut down if they were made to consider gay couples as prospective parents. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the head of the church in England and Wales, wrote a letter to Blair asking for an exemption. In his letter Murphy-O'Connor said the church believed "it would be unreasonable, unnecessary, and unjust discrimination against Catholics for the government to insist that if they wish to continue to work with local authorities, Catholic adoption agencies must act against the teaching of the church and their own consciences by being obliged in law to provide such a service." Senior Church of England figures, including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Archbishop of York John Sentamu, subsequently sided with the cardinal. The Muslim Council of Great Britain, representing 400 Islamic organizations, declared its support for the Catholic position days later. (Jennifer Quinn, AP)

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