The Northern Ireland High Court [official website] on Wednesday held [judgment] that a law permitting adoption only by heterosexual married couples or single individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation, is unlawful. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) [advocacy website] challenged Articles 14 and 15 of the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 [text], arguing that the "eligibility criteria for adoption are unjustifiably discriminatory." Justice Treacy concluded that the ban unlawfully discriminated against gay and unmarried couples. NIHRC Chief Commissioner Michael O'Flaherty praised the ruling [press release]:
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. 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.Treacy also noted that there is no basis for excluding individuals from adopting on the basis of their relationship status.
The controversy surrounding the rights of same-sex couples has been ongoing across Europe in recent months. French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told a French television station in June that laws legalizing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples [JURIST report] will soon be introduced in France. In March, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the right of a person in a same-sex partnership to adopt his or her partner's child is not protected by the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF].