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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 05:41 GMT 06:41 UK
MPs back gay adoption
Newborn baby
Single people can adopt, but not unmarried couples
MPs have backed controversial plans to allow unmarried couples - both heterosexual and gay - to adopt children.


If two people really want to adopt...they should want to marry

Ann Widdecombe, Conservative MP
The move has been personally supported by Health Secretary Alan Milburn, who says it is vital for more children to grow up in a stable family environment.

But Conservative MP Robert Walter has laid down an amendment to these changes - to be voted on Monday - which would specifically exclude gay people from the arrangement.

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

Impassioned debate

Earlier on Thursday, a free vote on an amendment to the Adoption and Children Bill was carried by a majority of 155.


It is not about gay rights, it is not even about parents - it is about a child's chance of a family

Jacqui Smith, Health Minister
The move aims to lift the ban on adoption by unmarried heterosexual and same sex couples but faces fierce opposition in the Lords.

In impassioned debate on the change, Labour's David Hinchliffe, chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, denied it was an attempt to undermine marriage.

"I have a deeply held personal belief in marriage," he said, stressing his one single concern was the interests of vulnerable children.

"Parents should be married'

Under present law, he said, "if the best interests of a particular child would be served by being adopted by an unmarried couple, this would not be allowed".

But former Conservative minister Ann Widdecombe argued that all parents should be legally married.

She said the legal responsibilities that come with marriage guaranteed children's "stability" and "security".

Robert Walter, Tory MP
Robert Walter: Amendment is not 'homophobic'
"If two people really want to adopt, if they are looking at the interests and security of that child, unless there is an impediment, they should want to marry," she told MPs.

Not 'anti-gay'

Tory spokesman Tim Loughton attacked MPs for using the bill to promote a politically correct "gay rights agenda".

The government should be putting the interests of the child first, not the wishes of the adult, he warned during a passionate speech.

"Too many people interested in this part of the Bill are in danger of putting the interest of adults ahead of the children," he said.

The Tories were not "anti-gay or pro marriage" but believed marriage provided the best foundations for adoption, he added.

'Political correctness'

Health Minister Jacqui Smith said the measures were about increasing the potential pool of adopters - not the right to adopt.

The Bill was about providing a stable family home for children, which did not necessarily mean with a married couple.

She added: "In the end this is not a debate about a right to adopt, it is not about political correctness, it is not about gay rights, it is not even about parents - it is about a child's chance of a family."

Single people

It is suggested that the courts allow an unmarried couple to adopt when they are 21-years-old or older.

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

There must be provision to ensure the financial and practical security of the children in case the couple split up.

At present, a single person can adopt but an unmarried couple cannot adopt as partners.

Tory opposition Liberal Democrat health spokesman Evan Harris argued that unmarried couples, including gays, should be allowed to adopt, especially as individual gays could do so under existing laws.

Scientific research showed children fared much better when adopted by unmarried, including same sex couples, than in care, he added.

It is estimated that some 5,000 children nationwide are waiting for a home with an adoptive family.

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

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark D'arcy
"The idea of unmarried adoption was eventually agreed by a majority"
Jim Richards, director, Catholic Children's Society
"Cohabitations on the whole don't last very long"
Felicity Collier, UK Assoc of Adoption and Fostering
"This isn't a vote about the value of marriage"
 VOTE RESULTS
Should gay couples be allowed to adopt?

Yes
 76.87% 

No
 23.13% 

549 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

08 May 02 | UK Politics
Gay couples could adopt children
07 May 02 | UK Politics
Q&A: Gay couples and adoption
07 Feb 02 | Europe
Sweden proposes gay adoption law
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