The failed attempt by the Health Minister Edwin Poots to overturn a landmark ruling on gay and lesbian adoption has been welcomed by gay organisations.
However, some religious groups have slammed the decision as "dictatorial".
The Court of Appeal dismissed a bid by the Department of Health challenging the decision to lift the prohibition of gay and lesbian couples in civil partnerships legally adopting.
Senior judges upheld the decision to bring equality for gay and lesbian couples, similar to the law already in England, Scotland and Wales. The decision also opens the way for unmarried heterosexual couples to adopt.
In October last year, the ban based on relationship status was held to discriminate against those in civil partnerships and to breach their human rights.
Attorney General John Larkin QC appealed against the High Court ruling on behalf of the department. He argued that the current criteria is lawful, appropriate, had public support is in the best interests of children.
But Lord Justice Girvan yesterday stated: "The department has put forward no justification to exclude same sex couples as parties eligible to adopt as a couple."
He also held that no proper explanation was advanced for why same-sex partners being rendered ineligible once they publicly cement their relationship.
Gay rights groups were yesterday celebrating the outcome, but said the ban must now be lifted.
Director of The Rainbow Project John O'Doherty described Mr Poots' attempt to challenge the courts as "embarrassing" and said: "There has now been clear direction from the Court of Appeal that the current unlawful ban cannot be allowed to continue.
"No longer must same-sex couples have to choose between entering a civil partnership and be coming adoptive parents to a child who needs them."
He said prejudices against same-sex attracted people are not a good enough reason to "deny a child loving parents and never will be".
One lesbian foster mum told the Belfast Telegraph the decision was "fantastic news" and although she didn't think she could financially support a full adoption, she knew couples who had to go as far as China to adopt a child.
However, the decision has angered some Church groups who say it's a slippery slope towards other rulings on abortion law and gay marriage.
Pastor Paul Burns, of the Adullam Christian Fellowship Church in Belfast's Sandy Row said the ruling came from "a dictatorship, not a democracy". "Where is the democracy in Northern Ireland when three judges behind doors just make decisions which means we are forced to accept this," he said. "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."
"I call on our ministers to put the vote to the public – because from the people who I've spoken to, we are bewildered at how this has happened."
Alliance health spokesman Kieran McCarthy MLA called on Mr Poots to halt any further action in the Supreme Court and slammed the appeals as "a waste of money".
He said: "The result today will mean that there are people, good people adopting for the right reasons.
"There is a waiting list for young people right across Northern Ireland and it makes sense. We know perfectly well what's right here, and what will save public money, it's as simple as that."
The NI Human Rights Commission took judicial review proceedings centred on the blanket ban imposed on same-sex and unmarried couples by the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987.
In October 2012, the ban on adoption based on relationship status was held to discriminate against those in civil partnerships and to breach their human rights.
The Department of Health challenged that ruling saying the current situation was appropriate and in the best interests of children. Senior judges disagreed and yesterday paved the way for gay and unmarried couples to adopt children in Northern Ireland.