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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

The government vowed last night to overturn a defeat during report stage of the Adoption and Children Bill which prohibited adoption by unmarried couples - whether same-sex or heterosexual.

At present, single unmarried people can adopt children, and the government insists it will restore to the Bill proposals which will allow unmarried couples to adopt. It argues this will strengthen legal protection and stability for the children, and increase the pool of prosepctive adopters.

Conservative frontbencher Earl Howe moved an amendment to limit adoption by couples only to those who were married. This was supported in the lords by 196 votes to 162.

Earl Howe said all evidence showed that all children tended to do better, in every way, if it had parents who were married. Marriages did fail, of course, but then it was for the courts to decide how best to protect the welfare of any children involved.

He said his greatest objection to the Bill, as proposed by the government, was that for the purposes of adoption the law would place marriage, cohabitation and gay partnerships as legal equivalents. The fact of a couple being married would carry no weight in any choice between alternative sets of adopters.

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, said he could not see how parliament could responsibily allow committing children and young people for relationship for life to couples who had not committed themselves to each other, publicly and in law, 'till death us do part'.

However, Lord Alli, an openly declared homosexual, agreed that married couples should have priority over unmarried couples, and that unmarried couples should have priority over gay couples.

'But I cannot agree', he said, 'that a child in institutional care is better off there than in a loving caring home. We need to think long and hard about the issue.

'There are 50,000 children in institutional care; 5,000 of them waiting for homes. Thirty-nine per cent of the prison population under 21 have come from institutional care. Between 14 and 25% of women leaving care are pregnant or have a child already'.

Arguments deployed by those against allowing unmarried couples - heterosexual or same sex relationships - was that they could not demonstrate a stable, long-lasting relationship. It seemed nonsensical to argue that a marriage of one or two years was more stable than that of a couple who had been together, like himself, in a partnership for 20 years.

The government is determined to remove the amendment when the Bill returns to the commons. It aims to ensure the Bill becomes law before 13 Novemeber, when the queen opens the new parliamentary session.

Hansard 16 Oct 2002: Column 860-950

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