Anti-Gay British Couple Denied Foster Parent Status

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Mar 1, 2011

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."

Others disagreed.

"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."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2011-03-01 06:28:10

    what is this world coming to?. Christians are subtly being forced to adapt to the values of society and to disregard their beliefs. No longer are Christians allowed to express their views if they are not in accordance with the secular worlds thinking. This country is bias in what they call human rights and anti-discrimination. Here is a clear example of a lovely couple being discriminated against because they hold a belief that is contrary to the laws of society. As it was the days of Noah so it’s going to be soon in Britain. We have lost the very principle on which we claim to formulate societal laws. This couple could have given a desperate child a comfortable home with loving human beings who will provide the basic essentials for daily living and moral values to allow them to become productive individuals in society. But no, let us not allow these bible believing, morally upstanding individuals to corrupt and infiltrate young people’s mind. What the judge did not get was that their ultimate goal was to provide a loving home for a needy child, not to preach or teach against homosexuality. If that situation should arise I am confident that they would not abuse or discriminate against any child in their care with such tendency. Where do we draw the line with beliefs? Muslims blow us up for not believing in "Allah"; Christians are sued for not accommodating gay couples in their BB / HOTEL. Will the government go into our heads too and penalize us for what we may dare think. We may not be able to change people’s unnatural tendencies, but we should not be punished for not supporting it. We obviously do not support a serial killer or a paedophile despite their claims of not being in control of what they are doing. As a society, we consider this to be unnatural and we distance ourselves and endorse punishment for this kind of behaviour. As Christians, we neither support nor discriminate against homosexuality. Our belief says it’s wrong, so we do not practice it, neither do we endorse it. However we will not go outside and malice, kill or isolate others who are homosexual. The bible says to love everyone and that is the principle by which we live. I was just preparing to adopt a child and this situation has completely thrown my interest. I stand by my Christian beliefs as this wonderful couple have done. If I am face with the same question, my response will be likewise.

  • akeith106, 2011-03-01 10:45:24

    As a gay man in the US, I too must say that I disagree with the court’s ruling. The goal of foster parents and adoption is to provide loving homes to children who are in desperate need of them. There is no reason to deny that to a child if this couple is able to provide one. I’m sure that as a loving Christian couple, they would not harm or discriminate against a child if they came to them about being gay. Even if they did, I’m sure the child would be able to talk to someone to report the issue! I also think that there is no reason that a gay or lesbian couple can’t adopt or foster children. We also have loving homes and the ability to provide for children’s needs. There are far too many children in need in this world for any loving, stable couple to be denied the ability to provide for these children!

  • , 2011-03-01 11:12:51

    This is in response to the first comment; Firstly, branding homosexuality ’unnatural’ really isn’t going to go down well on a website aimed specifically at the LGBT population, which begs the question as to why you are on here in the first place, but I don’t wish to digress.. Secondly, your choice of language with regards to homosexuality highlights the very reason for the high courts decision. You claim that Christians don’t overtly discriminate, and it is true many don’t, but if you tell a child that you still love and care for them, but that who they are and what they desire is fundamentally ’unnatural’, then that is extremely detrimental to that childs well being. You also say that Chrisitians don’t directly target gay people. That is a massive generalization, and doesn’t speak for the many Chritian denominations in this country that actively persecute my community (Westborough Baptist Church, Southern Baptists, Exodus international to name a few. The high court were entirely justified to uphold the decision. They are protecting children from harmful bigotry disguised as Christian ’morality’.

  • joloco, 2011-03-01 11:50:07

    If you substitute black person for homosexual in the above comment it becomes apparent how absurd the comment is.

  • , 2011-03-01 17:58:16

    As a gay man in the U.S. raised by a conservative Christian mother and a gay liberal father, I can safely say that I turned out fine and that I have Christian views and Christians won’t go to hell if they foster a gay child/teen and tell them it’s OK to be gay. Assuring someone that they are not wrong in God’s or your eyes will not open up the depths of hell and suck you in. I strongly believe that God does not care how people love each-other in the bedroom privately. If you wan’t to devote effort into something you’re passionate about, devote your energy toward loving God instead of aiding in preventing man from moving forward and away from archaic morals and restrictions.

  • , 2011-03-02 10:05:00

    The High Court is correct. Hate often comes disguised in the form of religion. There was a time here in the United States that Christianity was even taken out of context to justify slavery and Jim Crow laws... The High Court makes a LOT of sense across the Big Pond...

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