Northern Ireland has lifted its ban on gay couples in civil partnerships adopting children.

Gay and unmarried couples may now apply to adopt in the same way that straight, married couples could before.

The court decision to extend adoption rights to gay couples had been challenged by Health Minister Edwin Poots, who recently said he was “disappointed” at the UK Supreme Court for dismissing his latest legal challenge against adoption rights for same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court said his department’s case did not meet the criteria for appeal.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Following the Court of Appeal judgement in June 2013, unmarried couples, including same sex couples, and those in a civil partnership may apply to adopt.

“The final decision regarding the granting of an adoption order will lie with the court.”

The law as it stood before meant that single gay or lesbian people could apply to adopt a child in Northern Ireland, but a couple in a civil partnership could not.,

The Court of Appeal in Belfast dismissed Mr Poot’s challenge in June 2013. At the same time, the Court of Appeal ruled that a ban based on relationship status was discriminatory and breached the human rights of gay couples.

Northern Ireland was the only place in the UK which had the policy.

It was revealed in July that the DUP Assembly Member had used £40,000 of public money in order to fund the appeal.

Earlier this month, Mr Poots said: “It is not a human right to adopt a child for either a mixed-sex couple or a same-sex couple.”