Northern Ireland’s High Court has ruled that a ban on gay couples in civil partnerships adopting children is unjustifiable but, throwing out all reason and scientific evidence to the contrary, the nation’s Health Minister is to appeal the case because he thinks the ruling is “not in the best interest” of vulnerable children.
Despite the rest of the United Kingdom having legalized joint adoption for same-sex couples, Northern Ireland’s law has clung to a provision barring unmarried couples from adopting.
Mr. Justice Seamus Treacy, in what has been hailed a landmark ruling, found that the current law “unjustifiably” targets those in civil partnerships by virtue of the fact that they simply cannot marry under current law.
“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,” the judge is quoted as saying.
“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.”
Northern Ireland’s government has defended the law, in this suit brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), as being an overriding government concern for the best interests of child welfare.
However, Justice Treacy said he could find no basis for that contention.
The court concluded:
Adopting a child is no small undertaking. This is even more so nowadays when the profile of children who need adoptive families has changed dramatically.
A loving, permanent, stable home is infinitely preferable to growing up in care. The potential benefit to a child adopted in such circumstances is immeasurable. As well as a huge benefit to the child, these adopters also provide an invaluable service to the State. No relationship is perfect and while there are benefits to an adopted child in entering a relationship where a web of legal rights exists between the parents, that web is no guarantee of a lifelong, stable, committed relationship.
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.
The court did, however, give the government chance to appeal, and appeal Health Minister Edwin Poots has said he will do, albeit with a “heavy heart.” This is despite the fact that the ban has also been found to breach EU equality laws.
UTV Live News quotes Poots as saying he isn’t “convinced” gay couples adopting is in the best interest of the child, adding:
“The welfare of the child is the central tenet of the main body of children’s law in Northern Ireland- and this extends to adoption law. No-one has a right to adopt a child and, even when approved, prospective adoptive parents may or may not be deemed suitable to adopt a specific child – this relies solely on the best interests of that particular child being served by that arrangement.
Poots is unfortunately well known for his homophobic stances.
For instance, he has long maintained that Northern Ireland’s blanket ban on gay men donating blood should be allowed to stand despite a wealth of evidence saying that there is little substantiated risk in reducing or fully retiring the ban given the rigorous testing that is now in place.
Poots’ decision to waste yet more taxpayer money fighting joint adoption by gay couples has been slammed by local rights groups who say the court’s ruling is an important step in widening the pool of prospective parents for Northern Ireland’s population of children seeking care.
Image credit: Thinkstock.