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LEADING ARTICLE: We prefer fairy godparents

Put gays and children together and some people just cannot cope. Last month, for instance, Paul Johnson, the choleric, flame-faced columnist for the Spectator and the Daily Mail, took on Channel 4 over its lesbian season. In one particularly alarming appearance on network radio, Mr Johnson reached a crescendo of anxiety: "The lesbians are after our daughters," he foamed.

Most folk will have assumed that Mr J was merely exercising that spleen for which he is renowned. But this weekend came news that the vigilant curate of St Peter's, in the Hampshire town of Farnborough, upon discovering the gayness of a prospective godparent, forbade it. She was backed up by her boss, Canon Boddington, who pointed out that the church "did not condone homosexual acts". The gay man in question is so incensed by this that he is asking the Archbishop of Canterbury to step in and make a ruling.

For the church, being a godparent confers some particular responsibilities: he or she is supposed to help the child to believe in God, to bring the child up to reject evil, and to commit him or herself to fight against sin. Such commitments are, of course, highly abstract. Translated into what most of us want from a godparent, these virtues become someone who will be kind, considerate and offer a shoulder to cry on, someone who will act as an intermediary, a guide, an example and - if the worst happens - someone to help when tragedy or misfortune strikes. So, how do gay men and women match up to these criteria?

In general, gay people have exactly the same capacity for good and evil as heterosexuals. But in this particular context they also have some big advantages. Gays are less likely to have children of their own, and may well therefore lavish more attention on their godchildren. Young straights, on the other hand, often lose all interest in godparenting after the birth of their own children. And, to be horribly mercenary for a moment, this childlessness will often mean more money to spare on helping out when a godchild is in need (and even when it is not).

However, by far the biggest advantage of gay godparents is the experience many have of dealing with some of the obstacles and difficulties that society throws in their way. Often they remember all too well the difficulties of childhood and adolescence and consequently are sensitive to the problems of growing up and feeling "outside" things.

To Canon Boddington, all this appears to be irrelevant. It is OK for the church to make godparents out of adulterers, bigots, coveters of neighbours' asses and eaters of shellfish - but not practising homosexuals. Frankly, his parishioner's loss could be everybody else's gain. Our advice to parents concerning gay godparents is quite simple: go out and get one before they are all snapped up.