The Chancellor of England, Lord Falconer, told the BBC this weekend that there would be no religious exemptions to the new Equality Act's "sexual orientation regulations" (SOR). In response, England's highest-ranking Catholic prelate has warned that the Church could no longer operate social services such as adoption agencies if the government insists on coercing adherence to the homosexual doctrine.
Speaking on the BBC television's Sunday morning program, Lord Falconer said that pressure from Catholics to be exempted is simple discrimination. The SOR are already in effect in Northern Ireland and are scheduled to begin in the rest of Britain in April.
Baron Charles Falconer is a barrister and Labour Party politician. He told the BBC, "We have introduced laws which prevent discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation; those laws should be given full effect."
"We do take the view in this country that you shouldn't be discriminated against on that basis and think that applies to everybody, whatever your religion."
The Catholic Primate of England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor responded with a statement reiterating the Church's position that it cannot accept the government's attempt at coercion of conscience.
Murphy O'Connor said, "We believe 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."
He called for "fair play" saying that Catholic adoption agencies already refer homosexual clients to other non-Catholic alternatives. He told Blair that "legislation forcing the closure" of adoption agencies would be an "unnecessary tragedy" for the children who are helped by them.
The attempt in the US last year by the Massachusetts government to force the Archdiocese of Boston's agency to allow homosexual adoptions resulted in the Church shutting the charity down after over one hundred years of operation.
Under Britain's new law governing the provision of goods and services, religious believers who owned businesses or administered such facilities as parish halls would not be allowed to refuse business to homosexuals. The Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities have pointed out that this would mean bed and breakfast operators would not be allowed to turn away a homosexual couple from sharing a room in their home, and Christian churches would be forced to rent facilities for homosexual "weddings."
In December the government issued guidelines that called for schools to implement coercive measures for "acceptance" of homosexuality even at religious schools. A Home Office document recommended that schools and teachers who failed enthusiastically to endorse homosexual "rights" should be reported to police.
Archbishop Vincent Gerard Nichols of Birmingham has blasted the Blair government for attempting to impose an extreme form of secularist morality on religious believers.
A parish priest and seminary lecturer, Fr. Timothy Finigan, told LifeSiteNews.com that the government is making a fundamental error in its treatment of the problem.
Fr. Finigan, founder of the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life, said, "Lord Falconer refuses to acknowledge the obvious conflict of 'rights' at the heart of the widespread Christian opposition to these regulations. His approach seems to be deliberately confrontational and, if pursued, will place good and upright members of society on the wrong side of the law."
Dr Evan Harris, president of the Liberal Democrat campaign for gay and lesbian equality was quoted by the Telegraph calling on Prime Minister Blair to refuse public funding to Catholic social agencies that refused to adhere to the new laws.
After the publication of the Cardinal's letter, however, a spokesman for Tony Blair said the Prime Minister is still considering his government's response. Saying there were "sensitivities on both sides" the spokesman for Number Ten Downing said, "The key thing we have to remember in all of this is the interests of the children concerned and that there are arguments on both sides. This is not a straightforward black-and-white issue."