Friday, 19 October 2012

Independent: Adoption: Unmarried and same-sex couples’ rights
19 October 2012

A judge in Northern Ireland yesterday ruled that unmarried and same-sex couples in the country should be allowed to adopt children, overturning a 1987 adoption law that discriminated against both groups.

Belfast High Court Justice Seamus Treacy ruled that the law clearly violated European human rights laws on privacy and discrimination.

Other parts of the United Kingdom already permit gay and unmarried heterosexual couples to adopt children. But Northern Ireland’s law restricted applicants to married couples and single adults, including homosexuals.

Northern Ireland’s chief commissioner for human rights, Michael O’Flaherty, said the successful lawsuit “sought to protect the best interests of the child. Given the high number 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.”

John O’Doherty, director of a Northern Ireland gay rights group called the Rainbow Project, denounced the government plans to appeal the judgement as “wasting public money on a fool’s errand”.

Northern Ireland, like the rest of the UK, legalised civil partnerships for gay people in 2005. Although Northern Ireland is part of the UK, the values of the people there are similar to their southern cousins.

This is going on at a time when Malta is still waiting for a law to provide for legal recognition of civil partnerships. That law – the Cohabitation Bill – is supposed to be up for discussion in parliament. It was put forward by the government and deemed to be urgent, along with the IVF Bill. But as yet, as our front page story illustrates, nothing has materialised.

It is incredulous to think that Malta – a modern European state – is still waiting for a law to give rights to gay couples. Moreover, it is even more incredulous to think that there is no law, in 2012, to safeguard the rights of heterosexual people who are in committed relationships. Even more baffling is the way the government has put more emphasis on platonic relationships involving siblings.

Then again, this is the same country that ignored the reality of broken marriages for half a century, and saw a substantial amount of MPs vote against divorce legislation even though the country expressed itself very clearly in a referendum. We understand that things must be done over time. But there are gay couples and heterosexual couples that want to be legally recognised. Just like divorce is a civil right, so is the right to be recognised as a couple without having to marry. One wonders what would happen if the current state of affairs was challenged in the European Courts.

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