The High Court has ruled that an evangelical Christian fostering service can continue to work exclusively with Christian carers but that it must “accept gay men and lesbian women as potential foster carers”.
The Sunderland-based Cornerstone Adoption and Fostering Service submitted a legal challenge against Ofsted after inspectors criticised the agency for “discriminating” against same-sex couples and non-Christian carers.
Cornerstone, England’s only evangelical Christian fostering service, had seen their rating downgraded by Ofsted from “good” to “requires improvement” because of its faith-based carer recruitment policy.
In his decision on Tuesday, Justice Julian Knowles judged that Ofsted had been “wrong as a matter of law” and “erroneous” in its claim that the agency must place children with non-evangelical Christian carers.
The judge ruled that “Cornerstone is permitted to exclusively recruit evangelical Christian carers” because of the Equality Act 2010’s exemption for religious organisations.
Justice Knowles, however, added that the fostering service still “must change its recruitment policy” because requiring “applicants to refrain from homosexual conduct” is unlawful.
“It hardly needs be said, but I categorically reject any suggestion that gay men and lesbians cannot make wonderfully loving foster and adoptive parents whether they are single or in same-sex partnerships,” Justice Knowles said.
Cornerstone said it welcomed the court’s decision that they could continue to work exclusively with evangelical Christians, but the agency said it would look to appeal the “sexual conduct ruling”.
Cornerstone’s Chairwoman Sheila Bamber said: “The judgment justifies our decision to pursue this legal action. Our right to support Christian families in providing the best possible outcomes for vulnerable children and young people has been upheld.
“But I am saddened that the fundamental place of biblically based Christian marriage in our beliefs has not been recognised. We will carefully and prayerfully consider how to continue our vocation and work to create forever families”.
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