updated 3/15/2006 9:20:48 PM ET 2006-03-16T02:20:48

Republican Gov. Mitt Romney proposed legislation Wednesday that would allow Catholic Charities to refuse to arrange adoptions for gay couples.

The Protecting Religious Freedom bill would exempt religious groups from a state anti-discrimination law that requires them to consider gay couples when placing children for adoption and foster care.

Catholic Charities, the social services arm of the Boston Archdiocese, has been finding adoptive homes for children for a century but announced recently that it will stop doing so because placing children with gay couples would violate church teachings.

The governor, a potential candidate for president in 2008, has said same-sex couples have a legitimate interest in adoption, but the services Catholic Charities provides are important, too.

“In this case, the needs of children must come before the rights of adults,” he said.

Over the past two decades, Catholic Charities has placed 720 children in adoptive homes for the state, including 13 in same-sex homes.

Arline Isaacson, the co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, said that Romney’s proposal was reprehensible and that exempting groups from anti-discrimination laws would lead other groups to seek their own exemptions.

“Ultimately the kids are the losers,” she said.

The Democratic leaders of both chambers in the state Legislature have said they would oppose Romney’s efforts.

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