A legal victory for a lesbian couple who want to jointly raise one partner's child could lead to same sex couples in Northern Ireland being allowed to adopt, a gay rights activist has said.
The European Court for Human Rights ruled that the Austrian state discriminated against a woman by refusing to consider her request to adopt her female partner's biological child.
A final judgment in the case brought in 2007 – X v Austria – was issued on Tuesday, and expressly prohibits discrimination between homosexuals and heterosexuals in adoption law.
There is no right to appeal.
The ruling means the Austrian woman who brought the case can now become the adoptive parent of her same sex partner's illegitimate son. The court found that in countries where unmarried straight couples are not prohibited from joint adoption, then the same rule can be applied to unmarried gay people.
Gavin Boyd, Welfare and Education officer of the Rainbow Project in Belfast, welcomed the verdict.
"It is clear from this judgment that individuals living in same sex civil partnerships should have a right to adopt," he said.
"I believe the right will be extended beyond that to allow both partners to jointly adopt as they are elsewhere in the UK."
Last October, Belfast High Court gave gay couples in civil partnerships the right to adopt children. Mr Justice Seamus Treacy had ruled that barring gay and unmarried couples from adopting was "irrational and unlawful".
The judgment is now being appealed by Health Minister Edwin Poots.