German court expands adoption rights of gay couples

BERLIN, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Germany's constitutional court

handed same-sex couples a victory on Tuesday by ruling that gay

people should be allowed to adopt a child already adopted by

their partner.

The court said an existing ban on the practice - known as

successive adoption - violated the principle of equal treatment

of people regardless of their sexual orientation.

It said the status quo also harmed the rights of the

children involved.

"The exclusion of successive adoption by registered partners

violates the general principle of equality," said the court,

based in Karlsruhe in southwest Germany.

The government has until July 2014 to amend the law to

incorporate the ruling, which applies to gay people in civil

partnerships.

Under German law, a gay person can already adopt the

biological children of his or her registered partner.

In Germany homosexuals can form civil partnerships but are

not allowed to marry. The law already allows a married person to

adopt a partner's adopted children.

Opposition parties and gay activists accuse Chancellor

Angela Merkel's centre-right government of dragging its feet on

equality for gay couples. Civil partnerships are denied the tax

privileges accorded to married couples.

Lawmaker Volker Beck of the opposition Greens said on

Tuesday the government was failing in its responsibilities by

leaving the constitutional court to tackle issues of gay

equality on a case-by-case basis.

"The federal constitutional court has already said in many

other cases in the past that there can be no differentiation

made between marriage and civil partnerships when there are no

good grounds for it," he told German radio.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told a briefing on

Tuesday the government would study the ruling to decide how best

to proceed in amending the law. "The wellbeing of the children

will always be the benchmark for the government," he said.

Two lawmakers from the liberal Free Democrats, Merkel's

junior coalition partner, welcomed the ruling.

"Gay men and lesbians make just as good parents as

heterosexual men and women. Thousands of children are growing up

already in 'rainbow' families," said Stephan Thomae and Michael

Kauch in a joint statement.

In a separate case, an Austrian lesbian couple who want to

jointly raise one partner's biological child won their case at

the European Court for Human Rights, which ruled on Tuesday that

Austria's adoption laws discriminated against gay people on that

issue.

(Reporting by Gareth Jones; Editing by Pravin Char)

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