GAY couples in Scotland will be able to adopt children for the first time under controversial new laws passed by the Scottish Parliament yesterday.

The Adoption Bill, which will also allow unmarried couples to adopt, sparked furious debate in the Scottish Parliament and protests from religious organisations.

Concerns were slightly assuaged by the addition of "a stable family unit" as one of the considerations included before applicants can adopt.

However, attempts to block the legislation or at least ensure faith-based adoption agencies can opt out were voted down.

Roseanna Cunningham, MSP for Perth, tabled the amendment against gay couples adopting.

"We have a pattern of family life which we have had for generation upon generation," she said.

"All the research shows it is the best way to raise children and I do not think we should depart from that lightly.

"The Scottish Parliament vote cannot stand on its head what has come before and we cannot bemoan the consequences of family breakdown and at the same time do things that undermine the traditional family."

Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Tories, also raised concerns: "Many people believe that children need a strong male and female role model and are concerned that adoption by same-sex couples excludes that possibility and is not in the best interests of children," he said.

"People who express these [views] are not homophobes, or extremists or religious nutters, as some would suggest. They have genuine concerns and their concerns should not be dismissed."

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of Scotland's Catholics, also said children should be brought up by a man and woman. He said: "Of course it is better for a child to be in a loving home.

But a loving home means a mum and dad."

He added: "Basically, it is just not the natural way in which children have ever been brought up. It certainly is an immoral decision. We are descending into a spiral of immorality."

However Patrick Harvie, Green MSP, who is gay, argued that Ms Cunningham's amendment made homosexual couples and their children into "second-class citizens".

He said: "It is an absurd argument. Over millions of years of evolution, diversity is clearly the norm. There have always been gay couples and same-sex parents with children. What we are doing is making sure those children have the same rights as any other child in Scotland."

Around 400 children a year are adopted, compared with 1,000 two decades ago, and there are 6,500 youngsters in the care of local authorities.

Barbara Hudson, director of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, said any adoptive parent was robustly assessed, not only for the stability of their relationship, but their ability to deal with discrimination. She said: "There are already gay parents bringing up children with strategies to deal with that. We would regret if other people's prejudice stopped children from having a loving family."

THE leader of a small band of MSPs against gay adoption came in an unexpected form.

The left-wing SNP MSP Roseanna Cunningham, who has voted for the repeal of Section 28 and in favour of civil partnership, tabled an amendment to try to stop same-sex couples trying to adopt.

She was backed by just ten other MSPs, but said the point was to voice an opinion widely held in Scotland that a traditional family is the best place to bring up children, rather than to discriminate.

"I may sound old-fashioned and perhaps, I am old-fashioned, but so is the majority of Scotland," she said.

The MSP for Perth felt it was important to challenge the prevailing liberal attitudes in the parliament. She pointed out that the majority of submissions on the bill during consultation were against gay adoption.

"I have concerns about pushing so far ahead of public opinion. I do think there is a considerable body of evidence that suggests that the best place for a child is in an intact, standard family background.

"I think people are concerned about where family life is going in this country."

As a Catholic, the unmarried MSP also has her own personal views.

"The one truth we know about nature is that in order to have a child you need two people of opposite sex," she said.

"I appreciate for some people that is an obstacle which they think can be overcome. In my view, we have to proceed very cautiously before we go down that route."