DON'T IMPOSE YOUR MORALITY; Catholic Archbishop's Blast at Ministers over New Gay Rights Laws

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MINISTERS were accused of trying to distort the nation's morals yesterday in a fierce attack by a leading Roman Catholic churchman.

The Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, threatened to withdraw cooperation over schools, charity programmes and adoption agencies if new laws on gay rights go ahead.

The assault signalled a deepening of the row between Labour and the churches over the laws, which are designed to stop businesses discriminating against homosexuals.

Archbishop Nichols said Ministers were 'engaged in an intense and at times aggressive reshaping of our moral framework'. He added: 'Those who are elected to fashion our laws are not elected to be our moral tutors. They have no mandate or competence to be so.' Catholics have already threatened to shut their adoption agencies, which found families for more than 200 children last year, rather than place youngsters with gay couples.

The Church of England has warned that it believes the laws would make it possible for a gay couple to sue a vicar who refused to bless a same-sex partnership. The same rule would apply to other Christian denominations as well as Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Hindu clerics.

The Sexual Orientation Regulations are set to become law in April. Final details have not yet been made public, largely because of a row between Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, a staunch Catholic, and Cabinet colleagues.

Miss Kelly spoke yesterday of her opposition to sexual discrimination.

She told a conference run by the Commission for Racial Equality: 'Anger about people not being able to fulfil their potential brought me into politics.

'Whether the barrier is their background, their race, religion or sexual orientation the Labour party has always been prepared to take the decisions to open up opportunity for all.' Archbishop Nichols delivered his warning in a sermon in St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham.

He told the congregation: 'The Government must realise that it is not possible to seek co-operation with us while at the same time trying to impose upon us conditions which contradict our moral values.

'It is simply unacceptable to suggest that the resources of faith communities, whether in schools, adoption agencies, welfare programmes, halls or shelters, can work in co-operation with public authorities only if the faith communities accept not simply a legal framework but also the moral standards at present being touted by the Government. …