Lords ruling may pave way for gay couples to adopt
Published 18/06/2008 | 08:00
A landmark ruling by the UK's highest court today could pave the way for gay adoption in Northern Ireland.
The potentially groundbreaking judgement in family law was due to be delivered by the Law Lords at Westminster this morning after a five year legal battle by an unmarried straight couple.
They took a case after the man was prevented from adopting the woman's biological 10-year-old daughter, known only as P to protect her identity.
The couple began their relationship shortly before the child was born and have lived together for nine years, but have no wish to marry. However, the man, identified as Y, wants his relationship with the girl legally recognised.
“They are in all respects a stable family unit save the adults are not married and P is not Y’s daughter in any legal sense,” Mr Justice Gillen said in the High Court in 2006.
The biological father has "not contributed financially or otherwise" to the P's upbringing, according to the High Court.
Previous courts have upheld the existing Northern Ireland law — drafted in 1987 — which restricts adoption only to married couples. Unmarried couples, including gay couples, are allowed to adopt children in the rest of the UK.
The couple first took their case to the High Court in Belfast in 2003, when P was five-years-old but lost there and in the Court of Appeal.
But the Law Lords agreed to hear their case earlier this year. Arguments took place before the court in April.
Evelyn Melanophy of Emmet J Kelly Solicitors in Banbridge, who represents the couple, said: "This is a potentially groundbreaking case."
The ruling will have a significant impact on adoption law here whichever way the Lords decide.
"What's best for the child is best," said Basil McCrea, an Ulster Unionist Assembly member for Lagan Valley. "I hope the court reflects that. What's good is that this important issue has gone through the full rigours of the legal process."
If the case is successful, it should mean that unmarried couples — including same sex couples — will be eligible to go through the adoption process.
That doesn't mean they will automatically be allowed to become parents, but will be free to be assessed about their suitability to adopt children.
The Lords could require Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie to draft a new law for Northern Ireland.