By Norbert Demuth
KARLSRUHE, Germany (Reuters) - Germany's Constitutional Court on Friday threw out a case to grant gay couples the right to jointly adopt a child on a technicality, but gay rights activists noted that a ruling by the same court last February effectively allowed it.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservatives have been accused of dragging their feet over gay rights - leaving it to judges of the Constitutional Court to grant same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples.
Presently in Germany gay marriage is not allowed and gay couples cannot jointly adopt a child.
Last February however the Constitutional Court granted gay individuals the right to adopt a child already adopted by their civil partner, under a practice known as 'successive adoption'.
A prior ban on the practice violated the principle of equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation, it said in that ruling, giving the government until July 2014 to change the law. Merkel's new right-left coalition has pledged to do so.
The court also ruled last year that the government must treat same-sex couples on a par with heterosexual couples in taxation law.
The court on Friday however rejected a case referred to it by a regional court in Berlin saying it was not sufficiently grounded in legal argument, and Berlin judges should have incorporated its ruling last year on successive adoption.
"The Berlin District Court has barely considered the relevant literature and the ruling of the Constitutional Court in its referral," said the court in Karlsruhe.
In a statement Germany's Lesbian and Gay Association said it regretted the court would not make a ruling, but added it took heart from the fact that the court clearly supported the equal treatment of same-sex couples.
"Parliament and the government cannot hide behind this formal rejection of the case," it said in a statement.
"The ban on joint adoption by civil couples is effectively meaningless, as partners can circumvent it by adopting a child in succession. This is even possible in the same hearing," they noted.
(Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Stephen Brown)