A lesbian couple who were turned down as foster parents because of their sexuality have been given the right to care for children after their rejection was overturned at a second appeal.
The women, who have not been identified, were accepted as foster carers by Hampshire County Council's social services committee late on Monday, at the end of a year of argument between social workers and councillors. It is thought they are the first lesbians to have been accepted as a couple, although others who live with a homosexual partner have been appointed as 'single' foster carers.
After being turned down as foster parents last May, the women were assured that their homosexuality played no part in the decision. One is a 36-year-old former nurse with two children from a previous marriage, the other is a 35-year-old businesswoman. They have been in a stable relationship for more than 10 years, bringing up the children as part of a family unit, and have been supported in their applications by the council's social work team.
The women appealed against the decision to reject them and an independent child care investigator, appointed by the council, backed their application. But they were rejected again in December.
In January, however, Peter Brunnen a local councillor and gay rights activist, acquired minutes of the May meeting, which he released to the Independent. They showed that councillors ' .. decided not to approve the application on the grounds that it was not in the interest of children being looked after by the county council to be placed in the care of a lesbian couple'.
Department of Health guidelines on fostering say: 'It would be wrong arbitrarily to exclude any particular groups of people from consideration. But the chosen way of life of some adults may mean that they would not be able to provide a suitable environment for the care and nurture of a child.'
This has been interpreted by fostering agencies as meaning that a person otherwise deemed to be a suitable applicant should not be rejected simply because he or she is homosexual.
The couple's second appeal was backed by a panel of independent child care experts appointed by the council. Finally, on Monday, their recommendations were accepted and the women were approved as short-term emergency and respite carers for children aged up to five.
One of the women said: 'It has been very important to us to demonstrate that simply being lesbian does not mean we cannot be good foster parents.' The Conservative-controlled council said that the deliberations leading to its change of heart were confidential.