A year or so ago, the then Labour government decided that under the anti-discrimination laws, they would make it illegal for adoption agencies to exclude same-sex couples from the adoption process solely on the basis of their sexuality.
There were, at the time, several adoption agencies run by the Catholic church which were renowned for being able to find loving homes for some of the most disturbed and difficult children. These agencies were forced to shut down because they refused to compromise their principles over the sexuality of the prospective parents.
One such agency took the case to court, was ruled against, but given the right to appeal, which they did. They lost the appeal last week.
Writing in the Independent on Sunday, Paul Vallely pointed out that the focus from the gay lobby was not on the needs of children, but on the rights of adults to adopt. Actually, he didn’t. His point would have been stronger if he had, but he was caught up in the language of rights and talked about the right of every child to ‘be properly parented’.
If you frame the question as a clash of rights, the result will almost inevitably be entirely subjective, based on what the culture of the day, or even the specific judge, considers to be the most important ‘right’ (as is happening with the gay marriage debate in California – it swings one way then the other according to who is hearing the case or the appeal on a given day).
Children need nourishment, shelter and nurture. They need love and they need stability. They don’t have a right to these things, any more than I have a right to breathe oxygen, but in order to live and to flourish, they have a need for them.
When those things are not available to them naturally, a compassionate, mature, civilised society will take up the slack, doing its utmost to provide the best possible alternative. Studies show that, statistically, married couples are the most likely to remain together for the long term. Those who are cohabiting or in civil partnerships are less so. Homosexual partnerships are notoriously unstable. Children who grow up with a single parent experience great difficulties; they suffer from the lack, not of two bodies around them, but of the balance and influence of two different genders.
The Catholic adoption agencies took all these things into account and reached the conclusion that it would very likely be harmful to children to place them with homosexual couples for all these reasons.
The concept of needs, though, being underplayed and thus undervalued by our society, lost out to the concept of rights – adults demanding what they wanted regardless of the implications for the most vulnerable and needy.