Northern Ireland has lifted its ban on gay couples adopting, a massive step toward equality that could also help in Northern Ireland’s marriage equality fight.
The ban was officially lifted on December 11. It prevented same-sex and opposite sex unmarried couples from adopting. As same-sex couples cannot yet marry in Northern Ireland, this was a de facto ban on same-sex couples adopting even if they were in a legally recognized civil partnership.
In June, the Court of Appeal upheld a decision by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission finding that the ban breaches European human rights laws.
Northern Ireland Health Minister Edward Poots, infamous for his anti-gay views, immediately attempted to appeal that decision. He maintains the erroneous position that it is in the best interests of an adopted child to be raised by a mother and a father. In so doing, the ban remained in effect.
In November of this year, the Supreme Court refused Poots the right to appeal saying that he had failed to offer a valid challenge to the High Court ruling.
Poots took to the Norther Ireland Assembly on November 12, whereby he simply restated his position, “The natural order is for a man and a woman to have a child and, therefore, that has made my views on adoption very, very clear and on raising children very, very clear.”
The Northern Ireland health department appeared then to ignore the legal requirement for change. Unfortunately, there is precedent for that. Northern Ireland has in the past routinely attempted to skirt legislating around the subject of abortion with court decisions effectively being either ignored or given only lip-service. Gay rights groups began to worry.
However, this week the Department of Health issued a simple statement confirming that same-sex couples can now apply to jointly adopt:
‘Following the Court of Appeal judgement in June 2013, unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, and those in a civil partnership may apply to adopt.
‘The final decision regarding the granting of an adoption order will lie with the court.’
As all adoptions must be approved by a family court judge, this statement adds up to an important win for equality. Together with the announcement that Northern Ireland will hold a referendum on abortion laws, this decision is one that Belfast Telegraph has said signals a change in the landscape on “moral” issues.
The decision brings Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK on same-sex couples adopting. It also comes shortly after ministers announced a referendum in 2015 that will give the public the chance to legalize same-sex marriage. Northern Ireland is now the only place in the UK where same-sex marriage isn’t in the process of being legalized.
A majority of people in Northern Ireland appear to support same-sex marriage, but the campaign will face stiff opposition from religious quarters who have already announced their plans to campaign against the move.
While same-sex adoption rights have no direct impact on same-sex marriage, it certainly will now be harder for anti-gay marriage groups to argue that same-sex marriages could be detrimental to children given that same-sex couples will have been able to adopt for more than a year — and no doubt with no detriment to Northern Ireland’s children.
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