As of January 1, it is no longer legal for agencies to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples from adopting children in England, Wales and Scotland, reports UK-based the BBC.

When England's Equality Act became law in April 2007 it outlawed discrimination against gay people, but 11 religious adoption agencies were given a 21-month exemption from the law. Beginning in 2009, it is no longer permissible for those agencies to reject gay applicants.

Religious, mostly Roman Catholic, adoption agencies decried the law, saying it went against their beliefs. One agency said it would close up shop. But five of the 11 agencies will now abide by the rule.

Robert Pigott, the BBC's religious affairs correspondent, said the Catholic Church believed the rights of gay people were being placed above the rights of Christians.

In the United States, only Florida and Arkansas have laws that ban gay couples from adoption. Arkansas' Act 1, which makes it illegal for an unwed couple to foster or adopt a child in a state that bans gay marriage, was approved by voters on November 4, 2008. The ACLU recently filed a lawsuit aimed at repealing the law that affects both gay and straight couples. A Florida Supreme Court appeal of a lower court ruling favoring a gay man in the adoption of two boys he has raised since 2004 may ultimately decide the fate of Florida's thirty-one year old gay adoption ban.

Catholic leaders in England warned the 11 agencies, which specialize in difficult to place children, would close rather than accept pro-gay terms. The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, predicted the services of the adoption agencies would be “tragically lost to the country.”

Two of the remaining recalcitrant agencies say they will refashion themselves as charities serving heterosexual couples and single people so as to not run afoul of the law.

The three remaining agencies have remained silent on the issue.