UK says Catholic adoption charity that refused to help gay couples must change its policy

LONDON (AP) — A Catholic adoption advisory service that refuses to help gay couples cannot win an exemption from anti-discrimination laws, Britain's charity regulator said Thursday.

Catholic Care, a charity in Leeds, northern England, had argued that as a religious group it should be allowed to offer adoption-support services only to heterosexuals. It said its funding from the Roman Catholic church was dependent on its policy of helping only married heterosexual couples to adopt.

In March, it won a High Court appeal of the original decision in the case, but in a final ruling Britain's Charity Commission said the group's policy was discriminatory and breached European human rights laws.

The commission ordered the group to either cease its work to place children with adoptive parents or to abide by equality laws — meaning it would need to consider gay couples as prospective parents.

"The charity is very disappointed with the outcome, Catholic Care will now consider whether there is any other way in which the charity can continue to support families seeking to adopt children in need," the group said in a statement.

Andrew Hind, Charity Commission chief executive, said that under British equality laws there almost no circumstances in which organizations are allowed to discriminate on the basis of a person's sexuality.

"We have concluded that in this case the reasons Catholic Care have set out do not justify their wish to discriminate," Hind said.

Other Catholic agencies have either withdrawn from placing children or have cut their ties with the church since the British government imposed anti-discrimination rules in 2007.

"The law is carefully weighted to balance the rights of organizations such as religious charities and the rights of minority groups such as those with a particular sexual orientation," Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission said in a statement. "We believe the outcome in this case helps reinforce that balance."