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German court strengthens gay adoption rights

BERLIN — Germany’s highest court strengthened gay couples’ adoption rights in a ruling Tuesday that the country’s justice minister greeted as ‘‘a historic step.’’

The Federal Constitutional Court ruled that one member of a civil partnership should be able to adopt the partner’s stepchild or adopted child. Until now, they could only adopt a partner’s biological child.

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Germany has allowed same-sex couples to register civil partnerships that legally fall short of formal marriage since 2001. Unlike many other European countries, including Spain, the Netherlands and, most recently, France and Britain, it hasn’t moved toward allowing full gay marriage.

The court ruled on a challenge to the rules from a woman who was denied permission to adopt a Bulgarian girl her partner had adopted. It ordered the government to draw up new legislation by June 2014.

It said the German constitutional provision that ‘‘marriage and the family shall enjoy the special protection of the state,’’ cannot be used to justify ruling out same-sex partners adopting the other partner’s adopted child.

‘‘In marriage as in a civil partnership, adoption provides the child in the same way with legal security and material advantages in terms of care, support, and inheritance law,’’ presiding judge, Ferdinand Kirchhof, said.

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