Gay foster care ban divides Uniting Church


The Uniting Church faces a split over a ruling that has allowed an affiliated charity to stop a gay couple from fostering children.

The couple began a legal battle seven years ago with Wesley Mission Australia, which refused to allow them to become foster parents.

In a landmark decision earlier this month, the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal found in favour of Wesley Mission, which is part of the Uniting Church.

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But a spokesman for the church said its members would be split by the decision.

“From the liberal point of view, there will be parts of the church that will be disappointed with this decision,” he told AAP.

“Generally though, the more conservative side of the church will be happy with the decision.”

Uniting Care Burnside is a social justice service that’s also part of the Uniting Church and places foster children in safe homes.

It has a non-discriminatory policy when it comes to placing children in foster care, as does the Department of Community Services (DoCS).

“Community Service foster carers can be single, married, in a de facto or same-sex relationship,” DoCs said in a statement on Monday.

When the tribunal handed down its decision on the recent case, it cited the very broad exemptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act relating to religious groups and suggested parliament consider revising it.

But NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell said there was no need to review the laws as the same-sex adoption bill had been passed in September.

He said “faith-based” services were not the only option for those looking to adopt.

“But because there is choice, because if you’re a same-sex couple you can … seek to adopt a child, I don’t think it’s a big concern,” he told reporters in Sydney.

The case involving Wesley Mission dates back to 2002 when the gay couple lodged a complaint under the Anti-Discrimination Act after an agency refused to allow them to foster a child.

The tribunal initially found in favour of the men in 2007 and awarded them $5,000 each.

But Wesley Mission appealed and a review panel overturned the decision, ruling the tribunal had erred in deciding the mission didn’t have a right to discriminate on religious grounds.

The panel sent the case back to the tribunal, which decided in favour of the Wesley Mission and dismissed the complaint of discrimination.