Views on Sexual Orientation Relevant in Fostering Decisions

Posted: 3rd March 2011

The High Court has handed down its judgment in the widely-reported case concerning a Christian couple seeking to foster a child, who had told social workers that they were opposed to homosexuality on account of their religious beliefs.
Owen and Eunice Johns had previously been approved as foster carers by Derbyshire County Council and had provided foster care in the past, last doing so in 1993. In 2006 they again expressed an interest in fostering a child and in January 2007 applied to be short-term foster carers.
During discussions with social workers, the Johns expressed the view that homosexuality was against God's laws. They also said that because of their religious faith they would feel unable to take a child to a mosque. Ms Johns was asked about a number of hypothetical situations, such as how they could support a young person who thought they might be gay, or who was being bullied at school for reasons relating to sexual orientation. Following these discussions, social workers told them they 'would have difficulty in being approved' for fostering.
After the application had been deferred for some time, the Johns went to court seeking a declaration that:
  • persons who adhere to a traditional code of sexual ethics, according to which any sexual union outside marriage [...] is morally undesirable, should not be considered unsuitable to be foster carers for this reason alone;
  • persons who attend Church services at a mainstream denomination are, in principle, suitable to be foster carers;
  • it is unlawful for a Foster Service to ask potential foster carers their views on homosexuality absent the needs of a specific child;
  • it is unlawful for a public authority to describe religious adherents who adhere to a code of moral sexual ethics [...] as 'homophobic'.
The Council sought a declaration that it may be lawful for a fostering service provider to refuse to approve a foster carer who expresses opposition to, or an inability to display a positive attitude towards, homosexuality and same-sex relationships.
The court declined to grant declaratory relief, but did rule that a potential foster carer's attitudes to sexuality are relevant in fostering decisions. The legality of any decision will depend on the individual facts of the case, taking into account the relevant guidelines.
Contrary to some reports, the Johns have not been banned from fostering – a formal decision on their application has not yet been reached, although this ruling may mean they are unlikely to be accepted.