Adoption ban ruled 'discriminatory'
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. He added: "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."
Stormont health minister Edwin Poots said he would appeal. "My Department's position on adoption is unchanged by this judgment. A decision to place a child for adoption should be made on the basis that it is in the best interests of the child to be adopted and following a process of thorough assessment to determine that this is the case," he said.
Mr Poots said he was not convinced Thursday's judgment was ultimately in the best interests of some of the most vulnerable children. He added: "It is my intention to urgently appeal this judgment and I am taking this action with a heavy heart. I have already publicly declared my intention to reform Northern Ireland adoption law because reform is much needed and long overdue."