BELFAST, October 19, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) - A Northern Ireland High Court judge has ruled that a 1987 law banning homosexual and unmarried couples from adopting children is discriminatory and has ordered a judicial review of the current statutes.

Justice Seamus Treacy said people in civil partnerships were being unfairly targeted by the ban, and that the existing law violates European human rights laws against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Currently, Northern Ireland law allows a single heterosexual, homosexual, or lesbian person to adopt, but a same-sex or opposite sex unmarried couple in a civil partnership cannot.

The ruling was in response to a challenge to adoption laws brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), the Belfast Telegraph reports.

“It is clear that the difference in treatment cannot be justified on any grounds and unmarried couples are suffering an ongoing breach of their rights,” Justice Treacy wrote in his decision, noting they had the opportunity to adopt if they remained single. “By the continued denial to them of the legal opportunity to apply to adopt jointly which is available to those who enjoy the status of being married.”

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Justice Treacy also noted the legal precedent of same-sex unions as a justification, writing that the denial occurred “despite the fact that the commitment evinced by choosing to enter a civil partnership ought to be similar to marriage in indicating the security of that relationship.”

He ruled the current eligibility criteria served the best interests of the child was unfounded, and that the ban narrowed the pool of potential adopters.

“The most important consideration is that decisions are made in the best interests of the child,” he said.

“Issues relating to the sexual orientation, lifestyle, race, religion or other characteristics of the parties involved must of course be taken into account as part of the circumstances. But they cannot be allowed to prevail over what is in the best interests of the child.”

NIHRC chief commissioner Professor Michael O’Flaherty welcomed the ruling.

“It brings Northern Ireland law in line with the rest of the UK and means that couples who are not married, those in civil partnerships and same sex couples will be now be allowed to apply to adopt,” he said.

However, Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots announced he will challenge Justice Treacy’s ruling, stating that his department’s position was “unchanged” by the judgment.

“No one has a right to adopt a child and, even when approved, prospective adoptive parents may or may not be deemed suitable to adopt a specific child – this relies solely on the best interests of that particular child being served by that arrangement,” Poots said in a statement.

“I am not convinced that today’s judgment is ultimately in the best interests of some of the most vulnerable children in Northern Ireland. It is my intention to urgently appeal this judgment and I am taking this action with a heavy heart,” said Poots, pointing out that the judicial review ordered by Treacy would further delay reforms to the Northern Ireland adoption law he had already undertaken.

Jim Allister, leader of the socially conservative Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party, said he hoped for a successful appeal of Justice Treacy’s ruling by the Attorney General and Health Ministry.

“There was, in my view, inadequate attention to the paramount benefit to the child of adoption within a regular family unit of a father and a mother and unwarranted equivalence of such to the unnatural setting of a same-sex relationship,” Allister said in a statement.

“Once more, we see the human rights mantra being exploited to further divorce the law from the moral expectations and norms of the society it exists to serve,” he concluded.

The full text of Justice Treacy’s ruling is available here.