A decision by Northern Ireland's Court of Appeal has cleared the way to allow gay and lesbian couples adopt children.

The issue came before the Court of Appeal after Stormont Minister for Health Edwin Poots challenged a High Court ruling that the adoption ban was unlawful.

The case of gay and lesbian couples, seeking to adopt children, was championed by Northern Ireland's Human Rights Commission.

It put the organisation at loggerheads with the Department of Health where Mr Poots of the DUP has ministerial responsibility.

The commission was challenging the blanket ban against same sex and opposite sex couples from adopting children under the 1987 Northern Ireland Order.

It was effectively seeking to bring Northern Ireland's adoption provisions in line with what applies in England, Scotland and Wales.

Last October, when the matter was before the High Court in Belfast, Mr Justice Treacy decided that the ban discriminated against those in civil partnerships and breached their human rights.

But Mr Poots lodged an appeal against that decision.

Today's Court of Appeal ruling upholds the High Court decision.

It has been welcomed by Professor Michael O'Flaherty from the North's Human Rights Commission.

He said the court has agreed with the commission that preventing someone from being considered to adopt because of their relationship status is a discriminatory practice.

It is not known if Northern Ireland's Department of Health will seek to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court in London.