Churchmen and politicians join forces to oppose lesbians from having test-tube babies without men
A unique alliance of senior politicians and churchmen will tomorrow make a historic stand against an attempt by the Government to "drive the last nail in the coffin of the traditional family".
MPs and peers from all parties, backed by both Anglican and Catholic church leaders, will ambush legislation intended to let lesbian couples become parents to test-tube babies without any involvement of a father beyond donating sperm.
The new law would remove the existing requirement on test-tube clinics to ensure that a father is involved in the upbringing of any child they help create.
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This current rule, say campaigners, amounts to legal recognition that every child has the right to have a father - and its removal is of huge symbolic importance.
The alliance of church leaders and Tories - augmented by some Labour rebels - will oppose the new law when it comes up before the House of Lords tomorrow. Their campaign is being backed by MPs from all parties, led by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith.
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They believe that the battle will become as symbolic of changes in social attitudes as the debates about the Abortion Law in the Sixties and Clause 28 of the 1986 Local Government Act outlawing the "promotion" of homosexuality in state schools.
Writing in The Mail on Sunday today, Mr Duncan Smith, who has undertaken pioneering research into the critical role that fathers play in keeping youngsters out of trouble, says the proposed new law is "another nail in the coffin of the traditional family and another blow against fatherhood".
Speaking out: Archbishop Dr John Sentamu
He adds: "Just as we are beginning to appreciate the vital role fathers play in the successful upbringing of children, Labour Ministers are sending out the utterly wrong signal fathers don't matter."
Mr Duncan Smith and his allies say the measure is in line with covert moves by the Government to undermine traditional families by removing terms such as "marriage, father, mother, husband, wife and spouse" from the statute book - and even from official forms.
The new row has been provoked by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which introduces new regulations governing the creation of embryos outside the human body.
The most controversial provisions govern IVF treatment. The current duty on the part of clinics to take account of "the welfare of the child" when providing fertility treatment will be retained - but crucially, the reference to "the need for a father" will be removed.
It means lesbian couples can be regarded as joint legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos.
In addition the new registration forms refer to "father or second parent".
In the case of lesbian couples, this would allow one woman to be registered as the "mother" and the second woman as "second parent" instead of the sperm donor father.
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, is expected to speak against the Bill in the Lords.
He has regularly spoken out about the importance of fathers in avoiding a breakdown in family life and argued recently: "If we do not get a lot of role models from fathers, I don't think we're going to turn the tide."
He has also spoken out in favour of the traditional two-parent family, arguing: "The Government needs to undertake a policy reorientation that incorporates the benefits of marriage to society as a whole, rather than relegating it to just another lifestyle choice."
The Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, said yesterday: "The Bill proposes to remove the need for IVF providers to take into account the child's need for a father when considering an IVF application.
"This is profoundly wrong as it radically undermines the place of the father in a child's life and makes the natural rights of the child subordinate to the couple's desires."
The campaigners say a new poll commissioned by the charity Christian Action Research and Education shows nearly four out of five people think it is vital to consider a child's need for a father when processing lesbian applicants for IVF treatment.
The new law means that where sperm donor fathers are excluded by lesbian parents, children brought up by lesbian couples and who wish to contact their fathers will have to wait until they are 18 to exercise their legal right to establish their identity.
A number of Labour politicians have also spoken out against the reform. And 45 MPs have signed a Commons Motion tabled by Morecambe Labour MP Geraldine Smith, saying the proposals are "profoundly misinformed and clearly undermine the best interests of the child".
Campaigners claim the new law is the latest evidence of a secret drive to remove traditional family roles from the statute book.
A Mail on Sunday investigation has established that in recent years, a number of measures have been pushed through quietly to achieve this.
In 2000, tax credit forms were changed requiring applicants to refer to their spouses as "partners" not husbands and wives. Tax and benefits forms now routinely refer to "partners" instead of husbands, wives or spouses.
And four years ago, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, then Equality Minister, was responsible for a Government report which said: "It is envisaged that Government forms currently asking for details of a person's 'marital status' would be altered to read 'civil status'."
Mr Duncan Smith said: "The Government has quietly expunged mention of marriage, spouse, husband and wife from official forms, so deleting the traditional family from the Whitehall mindset."
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay and lesbian rights group Stonewall, said last night: "At a time when three million children in this country are growing up in singleparent households, it seems odd there should be this obsession with a few hundred who have the opportunity to have a second loving parent.
"This is simply extending the protection that already exist in respect of heterosexuals."
In 2000 Tony Blair pushed through legislation to repeal Section 28. But the move was opposed by religious groups and the Conservatives.
The passage of the 1967 Abortion Bill also led to furious Parliamentary debate. It legalised abortion on demand and remains the basis of the current legislation.