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Monday, 20 May, 2002, 21:59 GMT 22:59 UK
Gay adoption a step closer
Gay couple Tony Barlow and Barrie Drewitt with their adopted children
The bill would allow gay couples to adopt
Gay couples have moved a step closer to being allowed to adopt children with the defeat of a last Commons move to block the change.

The MPs vote came as Parliament continued to debate a bill which would let unmarried couples, both heterosexual and gay, adopt.

MPs defeated by 301 votes to 174 an attempt by two Conservative MPs to exclude same-sex couples from the change in the law.

The vote comes after Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith insisted his party's opposition to the move was not down to homophobia.

'Children first'

The Adoption and Children Bill received an unopposed third reading in the Commons later on Monday and now goes to the House of Lords.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn is backing the change for unmarried couples, although Labour MPs have a free vote on the issue.

Most Conservatives are opposed to all unmarried couples being allowed to adopt, a point underlined by Mr Duncan Smith.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn
Milburn: The fundamental interest of the child is what counts
The Tory leader told BBC One's On The Record programme on Sunday: "Whether it is homosexual or heterosexual the point is about children.

"The Tory reform for homosexuals group support this. Why? Because they said the most important thing is the protection of the children, not satisfying different lifestyle choices.

"That is what this is about."

Mr Duncan Smith said he believed it was wrong for unmarried couples to adopt because statistics showed they were more likely to split up than those who had wed.

"You are dealing here with children who are in severe difficulties," he said.

"They have suffered often emotional problems. They have been in and out of care.

Judith and Alan Kilshaw
The Kilshaw case has prompted moves for tighter laws
"What you don't want to do is put them in to a home that is very likely to break up and then see them back in care again."

The comments were attacked by Liberal Democrat chairman Mark Oaten.

"A party which shows a lack of toleration on issues such as adoption... has a long way to go before it can claim to be the mainstream popular party of British politics," said Mr Oaten.

Under current law, only married couples and single people, including gay people, are allowed to adopt.

Last Thursday, a free vote on an amendment to the Adoption and Children Bill which aimed to lift the ban on adoption by unmarried heterosexual and same sex couples was carried by a majority of 155.

Internet adoption

The latest votes come as MPs debate the third reading of the bill, whose measures on unmarried couples' adoption are likely to face strong opposition in the House of Lords.

Other parts of the bill, aiming to tighten the rules on adopting children from abroad, were the focus of attention earlier on Monday.

Those efforts follow the British couple Alan and Judith Kilshaw's failed attempt to adopt twins from America for 8,000 over the internet.

National register

The bill would change the law so couples adopting children from overseas would face the same restrictions as those adopting in the UK.

Health Minister Jacqui Smith was the aim was "to protect children from the types of events we saw in the Kilshaw case".

The bill would also introduce other major changes to the UK's adoption laws, including the setting up of a national register aimed at speeding up the process.

A new category of "special guardianship" is set to be created too. That would provide a halfway house between fostering and adoption.

See also:

17 May 02 | UK Politics
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