Doncaster adoption agency which tried to block gay couples loses discrimination case

A Doncaster foster agency which asked applicants to ‘refrain from homosexual behaviour’ has lost a discrimination legal battle.

Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 6:33 am

Evangelical Christian fostering agency Cornerstone Adoption and Fostering Services has been told it cannot block gay and lesbian couples wanting to foster children.

The Court of Appeal upheld a ruling which states Cornerstone’s policy is unlawful and it must be changed.

The independent foster care agency, which is based in Doncaster, took legal action after Ofsted downgraded its rating to “requires improvement” in 2019 because it was discriminating against applicants who were not in a hetrosexual marriage.

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Cornerstone told applicants to refrain from 'homosexual behaviour.' (Photo: Getty)

At a hearing in May 2020, Mr Justice Julian Knowles found the agency’s policy unlawfully discriminates against gay men and lesbians as it contravenes the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act.

The judge therefore dismissed Cornerstone’s claim and he ordered it to pay 75 per cent of Ofsted’s costs.

The agency lodged an appeal in June, but three appeal court judges, Lord Justice Peter Jackson, sitting with Lady Justice Asplin and Lady Justice Nicola Davies, agreed the policy was discriminatory.

In the ruling, Lord Jackson wrote: “I have reached the clear conclusion that the judge was right to find that the different treatment arising under Cornerstone’s recruitment policy was not justified, either through the lens of the Equality Act 2010 or of the Human Rights Act 1998.”

He added: “In order to justify a policy of this nature, it needed to provide credible evidence that there would otherwise be a seriously detrimental impact on carers and children. The evidence it actually advanced did not go beyond the level of general assertion.

“In consequence, the judge understandably found it impossible to conclude that the ability to discriminate against homosexuals was a matter of such importance to Cornerstone that, without it, the wellbeing of current and future carers and children would be seriously affected.”

Cornerstone barrister, Aidan O'Neill QC, argued the ruling was wrong.

He said acceptance that sexual intimacy was exclusively to be enjoyed in a heterosexual marriage was part of the evangelical identity.

"You cannot be an evangelical Christian whose lifestyle is one which endorses same-sex activities," he argued.