Friday, November 9, 2007

This is a fascinating story.

Religion News Blog: Foster child to be taken away because Christian couple refuse to teach him about homosexuality (United Kingdom)

I think this story is worth telling more than once. Let's give that a go.

The State

To call a person discriminating is usually seen as a compliment. Do you have a discriminating taste? Discrimination on irrelevant grounds, though, is wrong. And the State sees it as a duty to promote equality by preventing these forms of discrimination. It is illegal for hotels and guesthouses to turn away clients who are, for example, of different races or of the same sex. Is that a good thing? Whatever way you look at it, the government is here overriding the freedoms of the hotel owner to promote the freedoms of others. Is that the government's business?

I try to be as liberal as I can be, but here I'm with the government, and not just because I'm gay. I think these impositions are justified, on the basis of reducing improper discrimination. And if you don't like it, you can sell up your B&B and go into a new business.

The Equality Act 2006 includes the Sexual Orientation Regulations, making discrimination on the grounds of sexuality illegal. It is indeed hard to think of a situation in which a person's sexuality could be a legitimate ground for discrimination. (There are places where you can legitimately discriminate on the grounds of race. Film and theatre are the obvious examples.)

Read that again: Discrimination on the grounds of sexuality is illegal. In all fields. That's a fairly broad brush.

Implimenting this legislation, Somerset County Council's social services department drew up a contract for foster parents. After all, the children fostered may be gay or straight, and it would be wrong to place a child who grows up to be gay with a family who will reject him or her for that reason. And straight kids too will benefit from growing up in an open and accepting household. The contract requires foster parents to be open to a foster child's sexuality, whatever it may turn out to be, and to be supportive. Also, foster parents must not suggest that homosexuality is wrong or that gay parterships are not 'real'. I think. I haven't seen the actual text of the contract. If anyone can find it, please put a link in the comments section on this blogpost.

One foster couple refused to sign this contract, feeling that it would go against their religious beliefs. They resigned as foster parents, and their eleven-year-old foster son, who'd been with them for two years, had to go elsewhere. The couple later changed their minds and signed the contract.

The Parents

Vincent and Pauline Matherick have been foster parents for many years, and have cared for almost twenty-eight children. They are very religious: both are ministers at the nonconformist South Chard Christian Church. No doubt their religious beliefs are expressed to the children they foster. And that's not illegal (yet).

Over the years, they must have filled in many forms and signed many documents. It is, after all, the social services department of the County Council that organises fostering, and local government is well known for beurocracy. One day, though, they were presented with a document they felt unable to sign. This contract demanded that they teach their foster son about sexual equality.

They felt it was inappropriate to even talk about sexuality with eleven-year-olds. They were also worried that they would have to be "prepared to explain how gay people date" and to "take a teenager to gay association meetings". This bothered them.

In fact, a little further research suggests that they would not be required to take their foster son to gay association meetings unless he himself expressed a desire to do so. And there is no indication that the young lad is gay, so the situation is unlikely to arise. Perhaps they were more concerned about the principle of the thing.

Rather than sign the contract, which was against their "central beliefs", the Mathericks resigned as foster parents.

Later, after reassurances from the council, they did sign it. News sources are not very clear, but it's likely their foster son is back with them.

The Child

What the young boy thought of all this is not anywhere recorded. I haven't come across an interview with him, nor do I expect to find one. (According to BBC News, he cannot be named for legal reasons.) If anyone does know of one, please mention it in the comments section.

One could pull some good fiction out of these few facts. How legal would that be?

Further Reading

I got my initial information from the Religion News Blog, as linked in the top paragraph. But a little searching turned up a few more.

Care and Health have the same story as the RNB, but theirs has three interesting comments attached. Link: Christian Couple Forced To Quit Fostering After Homosexual Row. They also have a statement released by Somerset County Council.

The BBC have both sides of the story.

And Pink News reports on the couple's decision to uphold the law. Foster couple agree to council diversity policy.

From the other side of the discussion, we have LifeSite. Their article claims incorrectly that the council have changed their position. They also name the foster child, which the BBC says is illegal. Presumably LifeSite is not hosted in the UK, and is not under these laws. I still think they should have preserved the child's privacy as much as possible. Christian Couple no Longer Required to Promote Homosexuality in Fostering Children.

WorldWide Religious News also have a write up. Christian foster parents condemn 'gay laws'.