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Adoption: The next step

Wed 7 Sep 2011 In: Comment View at Wayback

The adoption reform debate seems to be heating up once more. Why might this issue become the next remaining LGBT inequality to be tackled in New Zealand? Legislative reform is likelier to occur if there have been earlier Law Commission Reports on the matter, and professional organisations and associations have had the chance to think through the issues, assess evidence-based professional research within their disciplines and professional associations and undertake public policy positions as a consequence. If overseas professional associations have undertaken supportive stances, and there is also affirmative research evidence within peer-reviewed publications and journals, then this increases the likelihood of professional support and legislative momentum. Other parenting options are already available to LGBT New Zealanders, including in vitro fertilisation, fostering, guardianship and informal whangai adoption amongst whakawahine and takatapui. Hence, one has witnessed the formation of Adoption Action as a coalition of concerned professional associations active in the field of child health, welfare and development who want reform to occur in this context and replacement of New Zealand's archaic Adoption Act 1955 with Law Commission recommendations. Much has changed in adoption practice since the passage of this half-century old legislation. Whereas most adoptions occurred in the context of 'unwed mothers' before the access of the Pill in 1961, recent New Zealand statistics indicate that only three hundred or so adoptions occurred in 2007/8. These are often married heterosexual step-parent adoptions of the children of the biological mother or father. Recent adoption case law also indicates that the courts are willing to extend this right to long-term unmarried cohabitant de facto partners of straight biological parents. Individual lesbians and gay men can adopt in New Zealand. Due to the rise of solo parenting, contraceptive and abortion access, the adoption catchment has contracted over the last forty years. The legislation also lacks reference to Maori customary parenting values like whangai adoption, which may have advantages in terms of continuity of care related to adoption procedures. Indeed, it could be argued that the Adoption Act 1955 obstructs takatapui and whakawahine from undertaking parental responsibilities in case their biological parents are incapacitated or indisposed. I imagine the Mana Party would consider that, as might some Maori Party MPs. The United Kingdom, Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, Israel, the Australian Capital Territory, all Canadian provinces and territories, Tasmania, Andorra, Argentina, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Uruguay, Finland, Germany, Greenland and Slovenia all have either co-parent or full eligible same-sex parental access to adoption. In the United States, the District of Columbia, New York, New Jersey, Indiana, Maine, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont and Florida have no restrictions on eligible same-sex parental adoption. Unlike same-sex marriage, the US Christian Right has been conspicuously unsuccessful in obstructing or preventing adoption reform. Florida is a particularly cogent example. In 1979, it passed an anti-gay adoption ban under the malignant influence of fundamentalist anti-gay campaigner Anita Bryant, only to see it struck down in 2010. Mississippi, Wisconsin, Utah and Michigan are the only states that bar eligible same-sex parents from adoption, while only Utah and Nebraska explicitly ban co-parent adoption. Moreover, there are few US Christian Right resources available that target same-sex parenting. Added to which, the Catholic clergy paedophilia scandal has adversely affected the credibility and authority of statements about child welfare from that quarter of the Christian denominational spectrum. Added to which, it doesn't seem to have struck the Christian Right that we're monitoring related overseas developments with keen interest. Family First is parroting the UK Christian Institute on this issue, even given that the Christian Institute conspicuously failed to halt any of the Blair administration's LGBT affirmative reforms during the last decade, including adoption reform back in 2002. In the case of New South Wales, the Australian Christian Right seemed to behave in a particularly derivative manner, even going so far as to include references to discredited not so ex-gay 'psychiatrist' George Rekers, as well as importing references to 'rebuttals' of same-sex parenting from Patricia Morgan Robert Lerner, Althea Nagai, Stanton Jones and Mike Yardhouse that do not recognise that mainstream child health, welfare, paediatric and developmental psychology research has developed a consensus around same-sex parenting. Mainstream research points out that lesbian and gay eligible parents have excellent spousal and parental communication skills and that same-sex parenting does not adversely affect educational and later adult employment outcomes. In fact, young women are likely to take up well-paying non traditional jobs and young men have better interpersonal skills than children of straight couples. The Christian Right is isolated on this issue. The rise of Adoption Action and Jacinda Arden's private members bill bode well for the eventual resolution of this remaining area of LGBT parenting inequality in this country. Craig Young - 7th September 2011    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Wednesday, 7th September 2011 - 10:22am

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