Today in the High Court in Belfast Mr Justice Treacy has deemed that the ban was unlawful. He said:
“Excluding persons from the whole adoption process on the sole basis of their relationship status can only serve to narrow the pool of potential adopters which cannot be in the best interests of children.”
Unlike in the rest of the UK legislation in Northern Ireland deliberately went out of its way to exclude those in civil partnerships from adoption, while maintaining that individuals could still legally adopt. As we said earlier it meant that a lesbian or gay man were not prevented from adopting as long as they had no partner, or at least not one recognised by the state. But if they were committed to a relationship then they would not be allowed to adopt. Speaking on this issue Mr Justice Treacy said:
“In choosing to make a public commitment to one another, they become totally excluded both as individuals and as a couple from eligibility to adopt, ie not eligible at all.
“This is quite irrational and plainly unlawful.
“The present legislation essentially entails that a gay or lesbian person must choose between being eligible to adopt, or affirming their relationship in public via a civil partnership ceremony.”
The Northern Ireland Attorney General, John Larkin QC, had argued on behalf of the Department of Health that the change wouldn’t be in the best interests of the children, contending that Northern Ireland’s adoption laws were to ensure child welfare rather than satisfy the wishes of would-be parents. But Mr Justice Treacy stated:
“The rigorous scrutiny and assessment of suitability will ensure that only persons capable of providing a loving, safe and secure adoptive home will ultimately be considered.”
He acknowledged that that issues such as sexual orientation, lifestyle, race and religion must be taken into account, but added:
“But they cannot be allowed to prevail over what is in the best interests of the child.”
With the high number of children in Northern Ireland waiting for adoption the Equality Commission’s Chief Commissioner, Professor Michael O’Flaherty said of the ruling:
“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.”