Anti-Gay British Couple Denied Foster Parent Status
A British couple in their 60s say that their religious convictions "doomed" their bid to become foster parents because they were not willing to tell any hypothetical small child they might have in their care that it’s okay to be gay, the BBC reported on Feb. 28.
As EDGE reported three years ago, Eunice and Owen Johns, who are Pentecostal Christians, were turned down by the Derby City Council as prospective weekend foster caretakers for young children because they told a panel that they would not be able to reassure any gay kids they might find themselves caring for that it’s okay to be gay.
The local government’s spokesperson was not able to speak specifically to the Johns’ case, but she did say that the couple was refused on the basis of a law called the Sexual Orientation Act, the BBC News reported at the time.
At the time, a Derby council cabinet member, Sarah Bolton, said of the Johns’ claim, "This is an unfortunate case. But these laws are in place for the good of the children in our care."
Bolton added, "We need to treat everybody fairly because we’re looking after vulnerable children who have been through some quite horrific incidents in their lives, and therefore we need to keep strictly to the legislation and the policy."
"They asked, ’What would you do if a child came home at the age of 10 and said to you that they’ve been picked on because they’re homosexual? Do you know you’d have to tell them it’s okay to be homosexual?’ " Eunice Johns recounted in the 2008 article. "I said, ’I can’t do that. My Christian beliefs won’t let me do that.’ "
Mrs. Johns went on, "I would try and assure the child the best I can and tell them, ’I am a Christian and I don’t believe in homosexuality, but I can give you as much love and security as I possibly can.’ "
The couple took their case to court. Three years later, the High Court has ruled against them, the BBC’s follow-up article said. Lord Justice Munby and Mr. Justice Beatson found in their verdict that anti-discrimination laws "should take precedence" over faith-based claims. Otherwise, gay children could end up in the care of foster parents who would subject them to discriminatory treatment and attitudes.
The High Court noted that in such a case, "there may well be a conflict with the local authority’s duty to ’safeguard and promote the welfare’ of looked-after children," the BBC reported.
As to any claim that the court’s finding constituted "a threat to religious liberty," the court said, "No one is asserting that Christians--or, for that matter, Jews or Muslims--are not fit and proper persons to foster or adopt. No one is contending for a blanket ban." Rather, the court’s concern was with the messages and treatment that a gay child might receive at the hands of foster parents with anti-gay beliefs, be they grounded in religion or otherwise.
The Johns, however, implied that it was their Christian values that "doomed" their quest to become foster parents.
"All we wanted was to offer a loving home to a child in need," Eunice Johns, 62, told the media after hearing the court’s verdict. "We have a good track record as foster parents," added Ms. Johns, who has had four children with her husband, who is 65. The couple had fostered more than a dozen children in the 1990s.
"We have been excluded because we have moral opinions based on our faith, and we feel sidelined because we are Christians with normal, mainstream, Christian views on sexual ethics," added Johns. "We are prepared to love and accept any child. All we were not willing to do was to tell a small child that the practice of homosexuality was a good thing."
A Derby City Council spokesperson told the media that the court had "valued diversity and promoted equality" in its ruling. Moreover, the High Court had "encouraged and supported children in a non judgmental way, regardless of their sexual orientation or preference," the spokesperson said.
"The court confirmed that the local authority is properly entitled to consider a prospective foster carer’s views on sexuality when considering their application to become a foster parent and in fact, failure to do so would potentially leave it in breach of its own guidance as well as the National Minimum Standards," the Derby City Council spokesperson added.
"Thankfully, Mr. and Mrs. Johns’ outdated views aren’t just out of step with the majority of people in modern Britain, but those of many Christians too," said Ben Summerskill, the lead of British GLBT equality advocacy group Stonewall. "If you wish to be involved in the delivery of a public service, you should be prepared to provide it fairly to anyone."
The Christian Legal Center, which had backed the Johnses, responded differently to the ruling, claiming that the High Court’s verdict "sends out the clear message that orthodox Christian ethical beliefs are potentially harmful to children and that Christian parents with mainstream Christian views are not suitable to be considered as potential foster parents," the BBC article said.
British Newspaper the Evening News also carried an account of the High Court’s verdict on Feb. 28. The newspaper said that Ms. Johns described herself and her husband as "extremely distressed" because of the ruling.
Comments left at the BBC’s local news site for Derby were sharply divided as to the High Court’s verdict.
"This seems sensible," one reader said. "From an employment point of view you can’t discriminate by age, gender, sexuality, race, religion, disability or nationality. Those rules appear to be extended to adoption as a public service too."
"This is so unnecessary," a second commentator opined. "All the couple need to have said in the unlikely event this ever arose was to say to the child they should talk such an important thing through with his or her parents and express no view.
"I am a committed Christian with a gay son I love very much and fully accept," the posting added.
"If a couple wish to adopt [a child] and give it a loving home surely their views on life should not be questioned," a third reader stated. "In this world we are living, we are becoming too politically correct and read into things where you should never read. Everyone is going by the ’book’ and not considering that giving a loving home to a child is worth far more than rules and regulations!"
Observed another, "For the first ten years of my life, being gay was illegal and you could end up with two years in prison. Then the politicians decided that it was no longer illegal, and that is the law.
"But laws do get changed, and I can imagine most Brits could think of at least one they would like to see altered," the commentator added. "Maybe this couple are right after all? Can we really trust politicians to get it right?"
Anti-gay religious individuals and organizations have long argued that gains in legal and social equality for gays and their families would come at the cost of eroding the freedoms of worship and speech by those whose religions decree that gays are "sinners" who are bound for eternal damnation. Anti-gay religious activists have warned that gays would attempt to "convert" children into homosexuals, or "recruit" the young into a "homosexual lifestyle."
Adoption has also been a sore point among anti-gay religious conservatives, who argue that anti-discrimination laws that provide for equal family rights for gays and lesbians could force churches and church-affiliated agencies dealing with family matters--such as marriage and adoption--to extend the same services to all. Those who discriminate against gays and their families could be punished under the law--an eventuality condemned by anti-gay religious conservatives as the imposition of "thought crimes" onto heterosexual people of faith.
Eunice Johns, reading aloud from a prepared statement, told the press, "The judges have told us that "The judges have suggested that our views might harm children. We have been told by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that our moral views might ’infect’ a child. We do not believe this is so."