The council turned down a lesbian couple's application last May and rejected their appeal on 22 December. It later said the decision was not based on their sexuality, but confidential minutes of the May meeting reveal inconsistencies in that stance. They record that a social services sub-committee 'decided not to approve the application on the grounds that it was not in the interest of children being looked after by the county council to be placed in the care of a lesbian couple'.
Peter Brunnen, the gay rights activist and Labour councillor who obtained the minutes, said they demonstrated the committee's 'bigotry and prejudice'. The women, who applied to become carers after the council advertised in 1990, are in their mid-thirties and have had a stable relationship for more than 10 years, bringing up the two children of one of the partners, a former nurse whose experience was highlighted by the county's social workers. They recommended the couple's acceptance as foster parents.
One of the women said last night: 'The decision was very upsetting, but we think we could have coped with it if the council had said from the start we were rejected because we were lesbians. They told us the rejection was on 'lifestyle' grounds, but then, after the appeal, they said there were 'other reasons', which were never minuted. We were relieved that it finally came out in black and white that we were turned down just because we live together. We are a happy, stable family.'
Department of Health guidelines on fostering say: 'It would be wrong arbitrarily to exclude any particular groups of people from consideration. But the chosen way of life of some adults may mean that they would not be able to provide a suitable environment for the care and nurture of a child.' This has been interpreted by fostering agencies as meaning that a person who is otherwise deemed to be a suitable applicant should not be rejected simply because he or she is homosexual.
A report by an independent investigator, obtained by the Independent, was prepared before the appeal and recommended that the committee reconsider its original decision. The council rejected the report. Last night, Peter Maxwell, chairman of Hampshire's social services committee, said it planned to re-examine its policy at a meeting on 22 January.
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