For the first time unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, could apply for joint adoption in England and Wales.
Before then, research had shown that when same-sex applicants for adoption were open about their sexuality, they received negative responses from adoption agencies. And even if they were approved as carers, they often didn’t have children placed or were only see as providing short-term fostering or respite care.
The new law was fiercely resisted.
Speaking during the parliamentary debate in the House of Lords, Baroness O’Cathain said: "By extending the category of would-be adopters to include homosexual couples of both genders and cohabiting heterosexuals, I contend that the Bill is now being used as an instrument of social engineering ... Is it political correctness? Is it social engineering? Or – perish the thought – is it the permanent downgrading of marriage and the family? I repeat that it is the children that I am concerned about."
And Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, wrote to Cabinet ministers saying Catholic adoption agencies "would not be able to recruit and consider homosexual couples as potential adoptive parents."
But the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, told the BBC that if society takes the view it does not discriminate against same-sex couples, people couldn’t be given exclusions on the grounds of their religion.
In England, the Adoption and Children Act passed into law in November 2002. It came into effect on 30 December 2005. In Scotland, the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 received royal assent in January 2007, enabling same-sex couples north of the border to jointly adopt children.
Stonewall Scotland’s director, Carl Watt, told the press: "What all children need and deserve most of all is a safe, secure, loving and stable home environment and same-sex couples are equally able to provide this as opposite-sex couples. This legislation also means that there will be hopefully fewer children in care homes and more with homes and families of their own."