A Glasgow-based adoption agency can keep its charitable status after winning an appeal following an OSCR equality ruling.
St Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society appealed against a decision by the Scottish charity regulator which deemed that the charity had directly discriminated against same-sex couples. A unanimous ruling by the Scottish Charity Appeal Panel decided in favour of the adoption agency and overturned OSCR’s ruling that it must lose its charitable status.
A spokesman for St Margaret’s, which is partly funded by the Catholic Church, said: “We are delighted and relieved that the threat hanging over us has been lifted. Our only wish is to continue to do the good work for which we have been recognised by the authorities, of placing children in need of families with loving parents.”
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, president of St Margaret’s, said: “We are grateful for this wise decision. It means that families who are ready to adopt can look forward to the future with a little more serenity, and children in great need can be placed into loving homes."
OSCR opened an inquiry into the charity after receiving a complaint from the National Secular Society in May 2012. The organisation claimed that St Margaret’s was in breach of the Equality Act 2010 by expecting applicants to have been married for at least two years. As the first same-sex marriages in the UK are not expected to take place until March this year, OSCR ruled that this expectation discriminated against same-sex couples.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “This ruling has the potential to kick a huge hole in the Equality Act. It appears to greatly increase the grounds on which religious organisations can discriminate against gay people.
“It goes entirely against the spirit of equality that is embodied in the Equality Act. It is a bad decision that will need to be challenged.”
The panel ruled that the discrimination is indirect as St Margaret’s gave greater priority to prospective adoptive parents who are a couple, Catholic and married for two years.
The charity said it gave lower priority to those have been married for less than two years, couples in civil partnerships, single people and married couples who do not wish to adopt within the Catholic faith.
The charity provided evidence to state that civil partners were allowed to adopt, meaning the distinction is between married and unmarried couples which is not unlawful discrimination.
Conservative peer Lord Deben tweeted his support for the charity, saying: “St Margaret's case in Scotland, happily reversed, shows danger of Charity regulators making judgements on beliefs. Brethren need support."
Member of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish National Party member, Richard Lyle, tweeted: “Great news St Margaret's Children and Family Care Society to retain their Charity Status by winning their appeal against a ruling by OSCR.”
OSCR’s chief executive, David Robb, said: “As the Appeal Panel has acknowledged, this has been a complex case involving a developing area of law.
“Our role as the regulator is to ensure that charities deliver their services lawfully. We engaged with the charity over an extended period and, on the basis of the evidence given to us by the charity, and having sought independent legal advice, we used our powers to direct the charity to make what we considered to be proportionate changes to meet the charity test and remain on the Register.
“We note the Panel’s decision and are considering its findings.”