A Catholic charity which wants exemption from equality laws which would force it to provide its adoption services to gay couples has had its latest appeal rejected.
Catholic Care, which is based in the Diocese of Leeds, has spent more than two years arguing it will have to give up its work finding homes for children if it has to comply with recent equality regulations which prohibit discrimination against same-sex couples wanting to adopt.
The complex legal debate ended up in the High Court last year before it was referred back to the Charity Commission which again refused to back Catholic Care's stance.
A tribunal dismissed the charity's appeal, supporting the Charity Commission's ruling. In its decision, the tribunal acknowledged there would be "a loss to society if the charity's skilled staff were no longer engaged in the task of preparing potential adopters to offer families to children awaiting an adoption placement."
But the panel said it had to balance the risk of closure of the charity's adoption service - which it said was "by no means certain" - against the "detriment to same-sex couples and the detriment to society generally of permitting the discrimination proposed".
The ruling dismissed an appeal by Catholic Care against the decision of the Charity Commission to refuse its consent to a "change of charitable objects". The charity argued that its stance attracted potential adopters who did not approach other agencies. It told the tribunal that same-sex couples could get adoption services from local authorities and other voluntary agencies and said failure to secure the exemption would hit the voluntary donations which keep it afloat.
Bishop of Leeds Arthur Roche told the tribunal last month that he believed the law should respect the Catholic Church's views on this issue in the same way that it allows churches not to have to bless civil partnerships.
But the tribunal found that adoption is a public service, funded in part by local authorities, so does not have the same exemptions under the Equality Act 2010 as those which cover private religious worship.
The tribunal also said there was no evidence, except for the bishop's opinion, that donated income would be hit. It said it had heard expert evidence which contradicted the charity's case that, if it were to close, children would be left unadopted. It said other Catholic charities have found alternative means of operating since the law changed.
Deputy chief executive of the gay equality charity Stonewall, Laura Doughty, said: "There should be no question of anyone engaged in delivering any kind of public or publicly funded service being allowed to pick and choose their service users on the basis of individual prejudice. This ruling makes the law in this area crystal clear."