Government backs call for adoption by gay couples while Tories and Christian groups fight the proposal

The Government has confirmed that gay and unmarried couples are to be given the chance to adopt, saying that MPs will have a free vote on a change in the law. Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, announced his backing for amendments to a Bill that allows couples in a stable and long-term relationship – regardless of their sex – to adopt babies and children. MPs and peers will be given the right to vote according to their conscience on the change, designed to find homes for thousands more children in care.

Mr Milburn said: “The Government’s objective is to increase the number of children who have the opportunity, through adoption, to grow up as part of a loving, stable and permanent family.” There are 60,000 children in care and foster homes but only about 3,000 a year are adopted. Studies show that children in care have a far higher chance of dropping out of school, and falling into unemployment and homelessness. Girls are more likely to get pregnant while still in their teens. The announcement follows a motion in Parliament signed by 140 MPs. Support from Labour and Liberal Democrats The change to the law, which has the backing of Downing Street, is also expected to receive the support of most Labour MPs, the Liberal Democrats and some Tories but is likely to meet stiff opposition in the House of Lords, which has a record of blocking measures, such as the repeal of Section 28, that extend gay rights.

David Hinchliffe, chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, who tabled the amendments, said the change recognized more and more couples were unmarried but in long-term relationships. He said: “If we are looking at adoption legislation, we are looking at framing a law for the next 25 years and, whether you like it or not, a significant minority – or a majority – may be in unmarried relationships in the future. Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said the announcement was “in the best interests of children and in the interests of equality”. But he expressed concern about a new clause which would allow the Government to define stable relationships in the future – possibly opening the way for future governments to exclude gays from adopting. The amendments will leave it up to family courts to decide if a couple can provide a stable and loving home for the child, regardless of marital status. Tory opposition The Tory MP Andrew Lansley, who supports allowing unmarried couples to adopt, will try to amend the Adoption and Children Bill to stop same-sex couples adopting. However, the Tories are still considering whether to force their MPs and peers to vote against the amendments by imposing a whip. The amendments are expected to gain the backing of MPs but be opposed in the Lords, where most peers will oppose giving more rights to lesbians and gays even though, under current law, single gay people can adopt but couples are banned. Baroness Young opposes A coalition of Christian groups, Tory peers and pro-marriage campaigners is planning to use the House of Lords to obstruct the proposal. Baroness Young, the Tory peer who led the successful campaign to stop the abolition of Section 28, which prevents local authorities promoting a gay lifestyle, is preparing to speak out against a change in the law. She will be joined by peers from all parties who oppose any attempt to “dilute the institution of marriage”. Baroness Young’s office said: “She has made it clear that she will be opposing the move to allow unmarried couples to adopt.” The Christian Institute lobbies peers The Christian Institute has already begun lobbying peers to vote against amendments that would for the first time give gay and unmarried couples the right to adopt children. Colin Hart, of the Institute, said: “We are against any change in the law. The research shows that there is no doubt that children do much better if they have a mother and father, better still if they are married, but worst of all if they are in a same-sex household.” Stonewall support Angela Mason, the director of Stonewall, blamed anti-gay campaigners for trying to hijack the issue. “This is not a gay rights issue. Lesbian and gay single people can already adopt,” she said. “The issue is about whether more couples can come forward to take responsibility for kids. “There are certain people who will oppose any move that recognises that lesbian and gay men can make a contribution to society.”

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