updated 1/26/2007 12:29:20 AM ET 2007-01-26T05:29:20

A bid by the Catholic and Anglican churches in Britain to exempt Catholic adoption agencies from being forced to place children with gay couples got Muslim backing on Thursday but still looked set to fail.

The Equality Act, which comes into force in April, is designed to stop discrimination against gay and lesbian couples wishing to adopt a child, but the church leaders called for an exemption for Catholic adoption agencies on faith grounds.

On Thursday, Muslims voiced support for the exemption and described the government’s apparent rejection as absurd.

“The Muslim Council of Britain fully supports the principled stand taken by the leaders of the Catholic and Anglican Churches,” it said, adding homosexuality was banned in Islam.

The battle between church and state involved Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was said to have favored an exemption, risking a revolt by most of his ministers and underscoring the weakness of his position in the closing months of his premiership.

Education Minister Alan Johnson, who has responsibility for adoption, said the government, including Blair, saw no case for special treatment.

“I don’t see a case for exemption and I don’t think the prime minister does,” he told BBC radio.

Interior Minister John Reid, a Catholic, also spoke out against an exemption. “I don’t believe you in this country have the right to overrule some of the fundamental values on which the country is based because you have a conscientious objection,” he told reporters.

Transition period
But Reid said the government should suggest practical ways around the problem, such as a transition period.

Blair said a decision would be taken next week and that while he favored the right of adoption by gay couples he also wanted to ensure the Catholic agencies continued their work.

“I have always personally been in favor of the right of gay couples to adopt. Our priority will always be the welfare of the child,” he said in a statement.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, and Archbishop of York John Sentamu wrote to Blair on Wednesday backing a call by the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor for the special exemption.

Murphy-O’Connor’s letter to Blair argued that to force Catholic agencies to place children with gay or lesbian couples went against the church’s teachings.

If the agencies were forced to close as this could put some 4,000 children awaiting adoption at a disadvantage, he said.

Despite a similar reaction to an equal rights law on adoption in the United States, so far Catholic adoption agencies in only two cities have shut.

The 12 Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales handle around one-third of all voluntary sector adoptions.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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