The political tussle over gay adoption and the incoming Equality Act has shone a rather revealing light on modern Britain. Its political consequences have been stark, demonstrating Tony Blair's waning power. Half of the Cabinet felt able to shoot down the Prime Minister's plan to grant an exemption to Catholic adoption agencies from the Act. The compromise, allowing the agencies time to adapt to the new rules, represents a palpable defeat for Mr Blair.
The affair has also shown how social attitudes have changed in most of Britain. A few decades ago, the prospect of officially sanctioned gay adoption would have caused outrage. But few people today take the view that gay couples should not be allowed to adopt. The debate has focused instead on whether Catholics agencies have a right to exempt themselves from the law of the land.
But perhaps most significantly, the affair has shown the limits of organised religions to influence political power. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the head of Catholics in England and Wales, wrote to every Cabinet minister to demand an exception for Catholic agencies. He was supported by the Church of England and the Muslim Council of Britain. It was a formidable coalition. But it failed.
Now the Cardinal accuses ministers of trying to impose a "new morality" in Britain. If this new morality means it will henceforth be impossible for religious groups to discriminate against people simply because they happen to be homosexual, we fail to see the problem with that.