Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots’ challenge against a senior judge’s ruling on adoption rights for couples in civil partnerships has been dismissed.

At present a single gay or lesbian person in Northern Ireland can adopt, but a couple in a civil partnership cannot.

In October 2012 Mr Justice Treacy of Belfast High Court ruled Northern Ireland’s ban had discriminated against same-sex couples in civil partnerships and also breached their right to family life.

Equality campaigners welcomed the ruling, but just hours later Mr Poots confirmed that he was formally going to appeal the decision.

As a result, advanced adoption rights for same-sex couples were put on hold until the appeal could be heard.

The BBC has reported today that the appeal has been dismissed, paving the way for the Belfast High Court decision to be put into practice.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) welcomed the decision, saying it would bring the country in line with the rest of the UK.

NIHRC’s Chief Commissioner, Professor Michael O’Flaherty, said: “Through this case the commission has protected basic human rights and the best interests of the child.

“For children who are in need of a family in Northern Ireland, the importance of this case in widening the pool of prospective parents cannot be overstated.”

John O’Doherty, director of Northern Ireland’s Rainbow Project, called it a “great day for the rule of law in Northern Ireland.”

“No longer must same sex couples have to choose between entering a civil partnership and be coming adoptive parents to a child who needs them,” he added.

Mr Poots, an evangelical Protestant who remains opposed to same-sex relationships, was previously accused of allowing his “personal prejudices” to influence public policy by Mr O’Doherty.

Northern Ireland Green Party leader Steven Agnew branded Mr Poots “unfit for office” and said that his decision was a “disgrace” when the country had more than 2,500 children in care.

Mr Poots was also responsible for a decision to maintain the lifetime ban on gay men giving blood earlier this year.