Published Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Couples in same sex marriages can apply for adoption. (© Getty)
Following a ruling by the Supreme Court unmarried couples, including those in a same sex partnership, can now apply to adopt a child.
In October last year the ban based on relationship status was held to discriminate against those in civil partnerships and to breach their human rights.
A High Court judge found excluding some would-be parents solely on their relationship status narrowed the pool of potential adopters and could not be in the best interests of children.
His verdict came in a legal challenge mounted by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
Earlier this year senior judges in Belfast dismissed a bid to overturn the ruling that the prohibition was unlawful.
That decision was again challenged and judges in the Supreme Court - the UK's highest court - dismissed the appeal.
Human Rights campaigners and representatives of the local gay and lesbian groups welcomed the decision hailing it as a landmark ruling.
Questions still remain as to why the Health Minister Edwin Poots chose to waste public money appealing this ban.
Sinn Féin MLA Maeve McLaughlin, who is chair of the health committee in the Assembly, has welcomed the lifting of the ban.
She said: "The lifting of the ban on unmarried couples, including same sex couples and those in a civil partnership having the right to adopt is to be welcomed.
"This witnesses a further step on the road to equality.
"The lifting of this ban will give much needed access for children in care to loving families.
"The focus in any adoption has to be the child's welfare and to deny children a good home is wrong."
John McCallister MLA, deputy Leader of NI21 also welcomed the end of the ban.
He added: "This is welcome news which brings Northern Ireland into line with our counterparts throughout the UK.
"The interests of children have to be the number one priority.
"If an unmarried couple or a gay couple qualify to adopt and are willing to provide a loving home for vulnerable children, then we should commend them."
A department of health spokesman added: "Following the Court of Appeal judgment in June 2013, unmarried couples (including same sex couples) and those in a civil partnership arrangement may apply to adopt.
"The final decision regarding the granting of an adoption order will lie with the Court."
© UTV News