A Belfast judge has ruled that laws prohibiting unmarried and same-sex couples to adopt children, breached their right to family life.

Up until now, only married couples and single adults, including homosexuals, could adopt in Northern Ireland. However, couples in a civil partnership could not. But the ruling will overturn the 1987 adoption law.

The verdict came as a result of a challenge to adoption laws brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, UTV reports.

Speaking following the High Court ruling on Thursday, Mr Justice Treacy said: "The present legislation essentially entails that a gay or lesbian person must choose between being eligible to adopt, or affirming their relationship in public via a civil partnership ceremony."

Health Minister Edwin Poots, an evangelical Protestant, has said he intends to appeal the High Court ruling.

“I am not convinced that today's judgment is ultimately in the best interests of some of the most vulnerable children in Northern Ireland,” Potts said.

"A decision to place a child for adoption should be made on the basis that it is in the best interests of the child to be adopted and following a process of thorough assessment to determine that this is the case," he said.

"The welfare of the child is the central tenet of the main body of children's law in Northern Ireland- and this extends to adoption law. No-one has a right to adopt a child and, even when approved, prospective adoptive parents may or may not be deemed suitable to adopt a specific child - this relies solely on the best interests of that particular child being served by that arrangement.”

NI Human Rights Commission Chief Commissioner Professor Michael O'Flaherty has welcomed the ruling.

"Through this case, the Commission has sought to protect the best interests of the child," he said.

"It brings Northern Ireland law in line with the rest of the UK and means that couples who are not married, those in civil partnerships and same sex couples, will be now be allowed to apply to adopt.

"Mr Justice Treacy agreed with the Commission that preventing someone from even being considered to adopt because of their relationship status is a discriminatory practice."

According to AP, around 2,500 children in Northern Ireland are in state care awaiting adoption.