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Last Updated: Friday, 10 June, 2005, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Adoption law for same sex couples
Children playing - generic
The review group has been looking at current laws
Same sex couples will be able to adopt children, under new legislation being proposed by ministers.

The move is part of a radical overhaul of Scotland's adoption laws.

At present, only one member of an unmarried couple can adopt, the other gets separate rights to live in the same house as the child.

But in future, unmarried and same sex couples could be able to adopt together if they can prove to be in an enduring family relationship.

The Deputy Education Minister Euan Robson said that the adoption system needed to be changed to offer more children the chance to flourish and have a sense of belonging to a family.

The change is being proposed against a background in which, 20 years ago, 1,000 children were adopted in Scotland every year.

That figure now stands at about 400 with 11,000 children in the care of local authorities.

Other aspects of the plan, which was drawn up by a panel of experts and made public on Friday, include speeding up adoption cases in the courts.

It will also include a Permanence Order for older children who want an alternative to adoption and possible continued contact with their birth families.

The details will now be subject to a public consultation exercise.

In applying to adopt children, same sex couples will be subject to the same rigorous assessment as mixed sex couples
Calum Irving
Stonewall Scotland
The highly sensitive issues prompted a prolonged cabinet debate this week.

Mr Robson said: "Any couple being assessed as adopters would undergo a rigorous examination of their relationship to make sure it provides stability for the child and to explore in depth their parenting abilities.

"This would ensure that only couples that can provide a secure home to a child would be allowed to adopt."

The gay and lesbian rights group Stonewall Scotland welcomed the executive measure.

Its director Calum Irving said that many children were already growing up in a stable family with same sex parents.

'Fit to parent'

He hailed the new move which would mean that gay couples could apply to adopt together.

Mr Irving reiterated Mr Robson's message by saying: "In applying to adopt children, same sex couples will be subject to the same rigorous assessment as mixed sex couples.

"It should be borne in mind that adoption panels always consider what is in the best interests of the child and where two gay people are considered fit to parent there is no good reason why they shouldn't."

Gerry O'Hara of the Scottish Adoption Association called for more support to tackle behavioural problems which can emerge from the stresses of adoption.

A baby clasps an adult's hands
Adoption rates in Scotland have dropped significantly
He said: "Families need to know that they can go back to whichever agency is appropriate and get help by right.

"You're talking about sometimes very, very challenging problems and behaviour from children who have been adopted, way down the line, long, long after the adoption order has been granted."

The review group, which was set up to help modernise current legislation, was headed by Sheriff Principal Graham Cox.

He said: "I believe that the implementation of our recommendations will improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in Scotland."

Tory education spokesman James Douglas-Hamilton said the matter should not been seen as a gay rights issue.

Change welcomed

He said there was evidence to show a child's best interests were served with a married couple.

Mr Douglas-Hamilton added: "The immediate priority is to extend the number of married couples who can adopt and by tackling prejudice on the grounds of age or race, to allow more to do so."

The Scottish National Party's education and children spokeswoman Fiona Hyslop welcomed the change.

She added: "This has been a long time coming and there is now a long period of consultation ahead.

"The key issue is to ensure that any updated law puts the needs of the child at centre stage."

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