A protester opposed to abortion demonstrates outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday, 18, 2012. The first abortion clinic on the island of Ireland has opened in Belfast, sparking protests by Christian conservatives from both the Catholic and Protestant sides of Northern Ireland’s divide. The Marie Stopes center plans to offer the abortion pill to women less than nine weeks pregnant _ but only if doctors determine they’re at risk of death or long-term health damage from their pregnancy. That’s the law in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, where abortion is otherwise illegal. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — Unmarried and same-sex couples in Northern Ireland should be allowed to adopt children, a Belfast judge ruled Thursday, rejecting a 1987 adoption law that discriminates against both groups.
Gay rights activists praised the ruling in favor of a lawsuit pursued by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. But Health Minister Edwin Poots, an evangelical Protestant opposed to gay partnerships, said the government would appeal.
"It is my intention to urgently appeal this judgment and I am taking this action with a heavy heart," said Poots, who called the ruling against the best interests of children.
Belfast High Court Justice Seamus Treacy ruled the law clearly violated European human rights laws on privacy and discrimination.
Other parts of the United Kingdom already permit gay and unmarried heterosexual couples to adopt children. But Northern Ireland's law restricts applicants to married couples and single adults, including gays.
Northern Ireland's chief commissioner for human rights, Michael O'Flaherty, said the successful lawsuit "sought to protect the best interests of the child. Given the high numbers of children in care, who need a family in Northern Ireland, the importance of this case in widening the pool of prospective parents cannot be overstated."
More than 2,500 children in Northern Ireland are in state care awaiting adoption.
John O'Doherty, director of a Northern Ireland gay rights group called the Rainbow Project, denounced the government plans to appeal the judgment as "wasting public money on a fool's errand."
He accused Poots of "allowing his personal prejudices to influence his public responsibilities."
Northern Ireland, like the rest of the U.K., legalized civil partnerships for gay people in 2005. Two years later, Britain devolved most government powers to a cross-community government of British Protestants and Irish Catholics, most of them religious conservatives.