The German Federal Constitutional Court, the nation's highest, has expanded the rights of gay and lesbian couples to adopt, ordering the government to draw up new legislation by next year.

The court said that one member of a gay couple in a civil partnership has the right to adopt the partner's stepchild or adopted child. Previously, the law only allowed them to adopt a partner's biological child.

Germany has recognized gay couples with civil partnerships since 2001.

While polls show that a majority of Germans support full marriage rights for gay couples, Germany has not moved toward its legalization.

The court ruled in a challenge from a woman prevented from adopting a Bulgarian girl whom her partner had adopted.

Despite the ruling, gay couples still cannot jointly adopt children.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, the government's justice minister and a member of the Free Democrats, praised the ruling.

“Today's decision marks a historic step finally to put rainbow families in Germany on a comprehensive, secure legal footing,” Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger is quoted as saying by the AP. “Full adoption must be the next step.”

Constanze Koerner of the Gay & Lesbian Association of Berlin told Al Jazeera that the ruling was “very important.”

“Over the last years, a lot of homosexuals have felt really resigned because adoption was not seen as an option,” she said.