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Door to Gay Adoption Opened in Northern Ireland

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday June 18, 2008

A ban on adoption by unmarried couples has been reversed by the United Kingdom's House of Lords, possibly opening the way to adoptions by gay couples.

As reported in a June 18 article by the Belfast Telegraph, a Northern Irish unmarried heterosexual couple had contested the ban, taking their challenge to the highest court in the United Kingdom, where, in a 4-1 decision, the ban on unmarried couples adopting children was struck down.

The male partner in the couple had taken on the ban in order to gain the right to adopt his female partner's child. But some now worry that two men or two women will seek similar family consideration from the law.

Gay adoption is already legal everywhere in the United Kingdom except for Northern Ireland, and while the decision says nothing about adoption rights for same-gender families, by removing the requirement that would-be adoptive parents be married first, the ruling could conceivably lead to similar challenges from men who wish to jointly father children, or women who dream of becoming a child's two mommies.

One provision in the ruling does uphold the status quo to an extent: the decision says that the marital status of prospective parents via adoption may be factored into the final decision of whether to grant, or to deny, an adoption bid, reported the Belfast Times.

The circumstances of the ruling include the fact that the heterosexual partners had been living together for nine years, since before the girl was born, and that the girl's biological father was not interested in asserting parental rights.

Said Evelyn Melanophy, a lwyer for the couple, "[The girl] has been treated a child of the family since her birth."

Continued Melanophy, "This decision now offers the couple the opportunity to move forward and to resume their application to the family division of the High Court to jointly apply to adopt the child."

Melanophy added, "If they are considered eligible to adopt the child, this will allow them to gain legal recognition for the family life they enjoy with the child."

Said the chair of the appeal, Lord Hoffmann, "I would declare the appellants are entitled to apply to adopt the child."

Lord Hoffmann continued, "I say nothing about the conditions which their relationship should satisfy in order to justify the court in making the adopting order, since this is a matter for the court when it considers the interests of the child.

"Nor do I say that the fact that they are not married may not be relevant to that question."

Added Lord Hoffmann, "The House should in my opinion say only that it is unlawful for the family division to reject the applicants as prospective adoptive parents on the ground only that they are not married."

The single dissenting voice in the case was Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, who cited the democratic process a the basis for his disagreement, saying that the matter should be left up to the UK's "democratically elected legislature."

In recent years, the issue of gay adoption has created some stir in Northern Ireland. Some polls suggest that over 90 percent of the Northern Irish oppose adoptions by same-sex couples, citing moral and religious convictions that children should be raised in mixed-gender homes.

Some went so far as to say that gays would not make good parents.

That supposition may be about to meet a challenge, given the change in the law.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.