Gay rights campaigners have welcomed a court ruling which paves the way for same sex couples in Northern Ireland to adopt.
It comes after a legal challenge by Health Minister Edwin Poots was dismissed by the Court of Appeal. The move brings Northern Ireland law into line with the rest of the UK and means couples who are not married, those in civil partnerships and same sex couples will now be allowed to apply to be considered as adoptive parents.
"This is a great day for the rule of law in Northern Ireland. 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 becoming adoptive parents to a child who needs them," said John O'Doherty, director of The Rainbow Project.
"Personal moral prejudices against same-sex attracted people are not a good enough reason to deny a child loving parents and never will be."
Mr Poots was seeking to overturn an earlier decision by Belfast High Court which found the current adoption ban on gay and lesbian couples was unlawful.
Dismissing the appeal, Lord Justice Girvan described the ban as irrational and unjustified. He said: "A bright line rule which excluded all but married couples from consideration as adopters had no rational basis when the true focus should be on the interests of the child.
"The creation of an irrebuttable presumption against any couple other than a married couple was irrational. The difference in treatment could not be justified."
The judge also said the ban only served to narrow the pool of potential adopters and was not in the best interests of the child. "The scrutiny and assessment of suitability ensures that only persons capable of providing a loving, safe and secure adoptive home will ultimately be considered," he added.
Under current legislation single men and women regardless of their sexual orientation can apply to adopt in Northern Ireland but unmarried heterosexual couples, same sex couples, and those in civil partnerships were not eligible to be considered for adoption.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission which took the case backed by an unidentified lesbian woman said it was delighted the High Court ruling against discrimination had been upheld. Chief commissioner professor Michael O'Flaherty said: "Through this case the commission has protected basic human rights and the best interests of the child."