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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 18:29 GMT 19:29 UK
Q&A: Gay couples and adoption
BBC News Online looks at the controversial issue of gay couples adopting children as the government indicates it will allow a free vote on the issue.

What has the government said?

An adoption bill is making its way through Parliament and an MP, Labour's David Hinchcliffe, has put forward amendments that could pave the way for adoption by homosexual couples.

Now Health Secretary Alan Milburn has said MPs will get a free vote on the amendments.

Effectively that means the government is not taking a line, although Mr Milburn said he personally backed the amendments.

What are the amendments?

They propose that the courts can allow an unmarried couple to adopt when they are 21 years old or older.

The amendments also propose that the courts must be satisfied of the long-term nature of the couple's commitment to one another.

They must also make proper provision for the children to ensure their financial and practical security in the event of the couple's relationship breaking down.

There is no specific reference to gay relationships.

What is the current situation?

Only married couples are able to adopt children, although individuals can adopt in their own right.

That means that although a single person can adopt at present, a unmarried couple cannot adopt as partners.

Is adoption by unmarried couples likely to be controversial?

The amendments are likely to be highly controversial and will face opposition from religious groups and family campaigners.

There are also elements within the House of Lords which will bitterly oppose any move to allow homosexual couples to adopt.

It is likely that in a free vote the amendments will have broad support from both the Labour and Liberal Democrat benches with some socially liberal Conservatives joining in.

But Tories Andrew Lansley and Robert Walter have tabled their own amendment which states that references within the Bill to unmarried couples should only apply to a man and woman living together.

What reasons are being given for extending adoption to unmarried couples?

The whole Bill aims to speed up the adoption system by establishing a register.

It sets a target to try to ensure that the number of children in care who are adopted increases by 40% a year

Mr Milburn suggested in the Commons that extending the number of couples that could adopt had the advantage of allowing increasing numbers of vulnerable children to grow up in loving homes rather than in the care system.

What else does the legislation propose?

In the wake of the notorious Kilshaw case where a British couple got around rules by going abroad, the Bill also sets tough penalties for those who avoid new safeguards when adopting from overseas.

They include jail of up to 12 months and/or stiff fines.

See also:

07 May 02 | UK Politics
Gay couples could adopt children
30 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Kilshaws prompt adoption overhaul
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