Court fight on gay adoption ban in Northern Ireland
Gay and unmarried couples in Northern Ireland are being denied adoption rights without any consideration of their ability to provide a loving home, the High Court has heard.
A judge was told the current law is at odds with the rest of the UK and not proven to be in the best interests of children.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has brought a legal challenge against the Stormont Executive in a bid to force a legislative overhaul.
It claims the current arrangements discriminate against unmarried and civil partnership couples and breach human rights.
Opening the application for judicial review, Monye Anyadike-Danes QC said: “Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which provides a gateway for adoption through which only couples who are married may pass.”
The challenge has been backed by an unidentified lesbian woman and her partner who want to adopt a child together.
In a clear indication of its importance, the Executive's chief legal adviser, Attorney General John Larkin QC, represented the respondent Department of Health.
Reference was also made to an unmarried couple from Northern Ireland who won an exceptional right to adopt after taking their case to the House of Lords.
Should the Human Rights Commission succeed, it would remove the ban completely.
It is seeking to ensure everyone, irrespective of sexual orientation or marital status, has the opportunity to provide a loving and secure home, the court was told.
Ms Anyadike-Danes said her client wanted to ensure “the pool of potentially suitable parents is as deep as possible”.
She stressed that the case was focused on the eligibility stage of the adoption process, rather than the later assessment stage.
“That is the right time to look at circumstances,” the barrister said.
“Not to exclude people with a blanket barrier without even knowing whether they have the qualities to offer a child a nurturing, loving and permanent home.”
She argued that there was no justification for the alleged discrimination.
“The current state of the law, we say, is not something that has been established to be in the best interest of the child,” she said.
“We consider the status quo, as it impacts on all unmarried couples, to be discriminatory.”
The hearing, which is expected to last for three days, continues today.