The United Kingdom's House of Lords on Wednesday rejected legislation that would permit unmarried heterosexual and gay couples to adopt children. The amendment had been added to the government's wide-ranging Adoption and Children Bill by the elected House of Commons but was defeated by the unelected House of Lords, 196-162, during an intermediate stage of the legislative process.
The bill will go back to the House of Commons, where the amendment could well be reinstated and sent back once again to the Lords. The defeat is a delay, and government ministers want the measure on the statute book before the opening of Parliament's next session on November 13. The peers' powers are limited, but they can amend and delay legislation.
"Adopted children need stability and permanence in their lives," said Earl Howe, a member of the opposition Conservative Party. "Statistics show clearly that couples who commit themselves to marriage stand the best chance of having a stable and enduring relationship. Unmarried couples and same-sex couples are very much more likely to split up than couples who are married."
Lord Hunt, a junior health minister in Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, asked the house to give the thousands of children waiting for adoption the opportunity of a loving, stable family environment. "When it comes to making individual judgments about couples who have applied for adoption, it cannot be made on the basis of a general hierarchy of relationships," he said. "The critical issue, surely, is how suitable that couple are to take on parental responsibilities."