Vincent Matherick is a church minister and a governor of a primary school in Chard, Somerset. He and his wife Pauline have three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and over the years have also fostered 28 children for Somerset social services.
Earlier this year, Somerset County Council's social services department asked them to sign a contract to implement Labour's new Sexual Orientation Regulations, part of the Equality Act 2006, which make discrimination on the grounds of sexuality illegal. Officials told the couple that under the regulations they would be required to discuss same-sex relationships with children as young as 11 and tell them that gay partnerships were just as acceptable as heterosexual marriages. They could also be required to take teenagers to gay association meetings.
The Sexual Orientation Regulations forbid suppliers of goods and services to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. Apparently this rule extends to foster care.
When the Mathericks objected, they were told they would be taken off the register of foster parents. The couple said that while they would neither condemn nor condone homosexuality, they could not actively promote it because of their religious beliefs. They have now decided to stop fostering, so social services are snatching away their current 11-year-old foster son and putting him into a children's unit.
Mr Matherick, a Christian minister and a primary school governor, said: "We have never discriminated against anybody but I cannot promote homosexuality when I believe it is against the word of God. It's terrible that we've been forced into this corner." He went on to say that not only would he have been required to talk about sex with the 11-year-old, he would have had to explain what it is that gay people actually do.
Mrs.Matherick said "We feel we are being discriminated against".
David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, said "It's absolutely horrendous that Christian men and women doing their bit for the community are being discriminated against because of their beliefs. I'm quite certain that social services would never dare to ask a member of any other established religion to agree to such a stance on homosexuality."
Valerie Riches, the founder president of Family and Youth Concern, said "This is rather typical of the distorted view of equality that this Government seems to have."
A spokesman for Somerset County Council said that it was obliged to implement the regulations. "I am not suggesting that it is not very difficult for some people, but there is still an obligation under the law," he said, which sounds an awful lot like the common excuse "we are responsible, so we have to do this". In reality these jobsworths duck responsibility by hiding behind orders, or rules, or procedures.
Another spokesman for the council's children's and young people's directorate said it was about "equality issues" not homosexuality. "It is not about promoting homosexuality, it is about foster carers being aware of equality issues," he said, adding that the council did not expect to lose any more carers as a result of the rules. He is lying, of course. If a foster-parent is required to take a child to gay association meetings, promoting homosexuality is exactly what it's about. And David Davies hits the nail squarely on the head when he asks if the same rule would be imposed on followers of any other religion. Can you imagine the fuss if a Muslim or Jewish couple were treated in this way?
What it all comes down to is the wielding of power and authority by local council officials. Taking children away from their homes is what social workers do best, it seems, and I suppose they have to do it as often as possible to keep their hand in.
What it's also about is that yet again the tail has wagged the dog. When it comes to any conflict of interest between the majority (vaguely white, vaguely anglo-saxon, vaguely CofE - that's most of us in a nutshell, isn't it?) and a religious or racial or sexual minority, it's always the interests of the majority that suffer.
I suppose we only have ourselves to blame. The main thing about minorities is that they aren't vague about anything. They know for certain that they are right and we are wrong - and time after time that's the stick they beat us with.
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