BY SIMON CALDWELL
TiE BISHOPS of England and Wales this week offered lukewarm opposition to a vote in Parliament to allow gays and cohabitees to adopt children.
Only Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, whose responsibilities in the bishops' conference do not cover the area of adoption, spoke with real disapproval of a move many critics consider to be yet another attack on marriage. Other senior Church leaders refused to comment publicly.
"The present debate must centre on the good of the child. This, and this alone, should be the principle which shapes any law or practice," he said: "The adoption of a child must never be used as a way of giving greater public recognition to the variety of 'partnerships' in which adults choose to live."
His remarks were later followed by a statement by Auxiliary Bishop Howard Tripp of Southwark, president of the Catholic Child Welfare Council. "I do not believe that a child's best interests are likely to be served by two people living in a same sex relationship," he said.
Both statements were prompted by an amendment to the Adoption and Children Bill during its Report Stage last week to change the definition of "couples" to include those who are gay and cohabiting as well as those who are married.
The amendment was supported by Health Secretary Alan Milburn even though the Government's own Adoption Law Review concluded that "joint adoption should remain limited to married couples on the grounds that adoption by a married couple was more likely to provide the stability and security that the child needed because married couples have a joint, publicly recognised, legal commitment to each other".
And in another victory for the gay rights lobby, a Tory amendment to define "couples" as strictly of "different sexes" was on Monday defeated in the Commons by a huge majority.
The Catholic MPs who voted against it were John Battle, Desmond Browne, David Cairns, Brian Cotter, Jim Dobbin, Paul Goggins, John Grogan, Helen Jones, Jackie Lawrence, Tony Lloyd, Anne McGuire, Mike O'Brien, Edward O'Hara, Greg Pope, Bridget Prentice, Ernie Ross, Helen Southworth, Keith Vaz and Claire Ward.
They cast their votes in spite of overwhelming evidence to prove that unmarried adoption denied children the stability and security they needed.
Research published by the Christian Institute shows the average length of cohabitation is just two years and that gay relationships are even more Iran
sient. If Cohabitees have a child, they are six times more likely to Split up than a married couple.
Jim Richards, director of the Catholic Children's Society (Westminster), said the vote was "hugely disappointing". He said: "Adoption works very well at the moment — it works well for children. If people are going to argue that the law should be changed, they need to show that what they are proposing is going to be as good or better.
"But the break up rates for cohabitees are very high. About 70 per cent of children born to married parents will stay with them throughout their childhood, whereas only 36 per cent of children born to cohabitees will stay with them. It's a huge difference.
"What you want of adopters are a couple who will love and care for the child forever. We want them to be able to proclaim that. Now, that's exactly what marriage does .. . cohabitation is just drift."
He added: "Children in marriage do better at school, have fewer behavioural problems and are much less likely to have underage sex than those brought up in cohabitation."
At present, gays and cohabitees can adopt, but only as single people. The Bill will receive its Second Reading in the House of Lords next month.
Editorial Comment— P7