A ban on gay and unmarried couples adopting children in Northern Ireland is discriminatory, a High Court judge has ruled.
Mr Justice Seamus Treacy said the rule unjustifiably targeted those in civil partnerships. At present a single gay or lesbian person can adopt but a couple in a civil partnership cannot.
The finding came in a challenge to adoption laws brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC).
The judge said: "Not only do they suffer the same discrimination that unmarried opposite sex couples experience when applying to adopt jointly, they also suffer unjustifiable discriminatory treatment when compared against individual members of an opposite sex couple who can apply to adopt as an individual.
"This is despite the fact that the commitment evinced by choosing to enter a civil partnership ought to be similar to marriage in indicating the security of that relationship."
Mr Justice Treacy said he could find no basis for the contention that the current eligibility criteria served the best interests of the child, the statement from the Judicial Communications Office added.
He said excluding people from the whole adoption process on the sole basis of their relationship status could only serve to narrow the pool of potential adopters.
He added: "The most important consideration is that decisions are made in the best interests of the child.
"Issues relating to the sexual orientation, lifestyle, race, religion or other characteristics of the parties involved must of course be taken into account as part of the circumstances.
"But they cannot be allowed to prevail over what is in the best interests of the child."
He allowed the Commission's application for judicial review.
NIHRC chief commissioner Professor Michael O'Flaherty said it was a landmark ruling.
"Through this case the Commission has sought to protect the best interests of the child. Given the high numbers of children in care, who need a family in Northern Ireland, the importance of this case in widening the pool of prospective parents cannot be overstated. We are therefore delighted with this outcome," he added.
"It brings Northern Ireland law in line with the rest of the UK and means that couples who are not married, those in civil partnerships and same sex couples will be now be allowed to apply to adopt.
"Mr Justice Treacy agreed with the Commission that preventing someone from even being considered to adopt because of their relationship status is a discriminatory practice."