Gay and unmarried couples are to be given the chance to adopt, the Government confirmed yesterday, saying that MPs will have a free vote on a change in the law.
Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, announced his backing for amendments to a Bill that allows couples in a stable and long term relationship – regardless of their sex – to adopt babies and children.
MPs and peers will be given the right to vote according to their conscience on the change, designed to find homes for thousands more children in care.
Mr Milburn said: "The Government's objective is to increase the number of children who have the opportunity, through adoption, to grow up as part of a loving stable and permanent family."
There are 60,000 children in care and foster homes but only about 3,000 a year are adopted. Studies show that children in care have a far higher chance of dropping out of school, falling into unemployment and homelessness and being susceptible to teenage pregnancy.
The announcement that follows a motion in Parliament signed by 140 MPs, was welcomed by adoption, family law and gay groups yesterday.
Felicity Collier, the chief executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering said "this is tremendous news."
"We are delighted the Government recognises the importance of ending unnecessary restrictions on prospective adopters. This is about children not marriage."
The change to the law, which has the backing of Downing Street, is also expected to receive the support of most Labour MPs, the Liberal Democrats and some Tories but is likely to meet stiff opposition in the House of Lords, which has a record of blocking measures, such as the repeal of Section 28, that extend gay rights.
Most Tories in the Lords will oppose giving more rights to lesbians and gays even though, under current law, single gay people can adopt but couples are banned.
David Hinchliffe, the Chairman of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, who tabled the amendments, said the change recognised more and more couples were unmarried but in long- term relationships. He said: "If we are looking at adoption legislation, we are looking at framing a law for the next 25 years and, whether you like it or not, a significant minority – or a majority – may be in unmarried relationships in future."
The amendments will leave it up to family courts to decide if a couple can provide a stable and loving home for the child, regardless of marital status.
Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said the announcment was "in the best interests of children and in the interest of equality". But he expressed concern about a new clause that would allow the Government to define stable relationships in future – possibly opening the way for future governments to exclude gays from adopting.
Andrew Lansley, a senior Tory MP who supports allowing unmarried families to adopt, will try to amend the Adoption and Children Bill to stop same-sex couples adopting.Reuse content