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Same-sex couple adoption? Don't hold your breath

Fri 21 Aug 2009 In: Features View at Wayback View at NDHA

Removing legal barriers to same sex couples adopting children will not happen any time soon, according to the gay and lesbian MPs polled today by Earlier this week acting principal Family Court Judge Paul von Dadelszen noted that New Zealand is lagging behind the UK, some Canadian provinces and Australian and US states by not yet allowing same sex couples to legally adopt children on the same basis as married heterosexual couples. De facto couples are also disallowed under New Zealand's still-current Adoption Act 1955. Despite protestations by church leaders and the odd politician such as United Future's Peter Dunne that having two male or two female parents will somehow warp children's lives, von Dadelszen noted that reputable international research "does not support any scientific basis for discrimination with regard to fitness to parent." He also noted a recent study which showed that there is no evidence of gender confusion in boys and girls brought up by lesbian parents. Greens MP Kevin Hague, himself a gay parent, says the parents' sexuality doesn't impinge on family dynamics, "because parents are motivated by what's in their kids' best interests, and there's nothing different about [our] kids, and their needs." The gay and lesbian MPs who gave their views have expressed approval and pleasure at the judge's remarks. "I'm delighted this has been raised by a judge," says Maryan Street. Grant Robertson says it is "very good" that von Dadelszen made the suggestion. "It puts the issue out there and is a good basis for debate." Charles Chauvel also welcomes it, but is unsure if the current government will use von Dadelszen's speech as a springboard to action any time soon without pressure from the glbt community. "When is the Government going to do it," asks Chauvel... any responsible politician would do it." Greens MP Metiria Turei has had her Adoption Bill swimming around in the Private Members' ballot seemingly for years. Under fellow Greens MP Kevin Hague's guidance it was included in yesterday's ballot but didn't surface. "Our party policy is for total equality under the law," says Hague, in a manner that suggests hell will freeze over before the Greens give up. "A future Labour government will do the right thing," says Chauvel, but in the current house the voting odds are against any opposition-sponsored bill. "We just don't have the numbers at the moment." Adoption is a contentious issue, with religious groups already muddying the waters with phrases such as the Catholic Church's "children have a right to both a male and female parent" stance, code for "having two mummies or two daddies will imperil the child who has no choice in the matter." An all but guaranteed messy public stoush over an adoption Bill such as Turei's, so easily spun by conservatives and bigots into the "handing over innocent children into the clutches of perverts and deviants Bill," was likely playing on Helen Clark's mind when she made the soon-contradicted announcement well before the last general election that the Turei bill was out of play. That fear or frustration over a political smearing and voter backlash against Labour's progressive attitude to equality for glbt people occasionally surfaces in the party's MP pool. "Every time we make a move to equality for gays we get tarred with the PC brush," noted one Labour insider recently. So if Labour is out of play for now, though its Rainbow MPs have adoption issues under "active consideration" according to Street, and if the Greens' bill faces a roughly one in ten chance each ballot day, is the Government likely to move any time soon on equalising adoption rights? "The issue is not on the minister's work programme," confirmed Minister of Justice Simon Power's office today. Is our gay Attorney General showing any interest, after one of 'his' judges kicked the same-sex adoption ball back into play this week? Chris Finlayson was down country and unavailable for comment, though we'll email a few questions to his office. But, apart from being one of the final jewels in the crown of glbt-related human rights achievements of the past quarter century, is formalised, legalised adoption actually needed? "Some would see adoption as a legal fiction," says Street, "a construct that needs reviewing for modern times." Until then she observes that the drop-off in formal adoptions in recent years, from hundreds a year a few decades ago to barely 30 per annum now, shows "people are finding other ways." Robertson concedes that "adoption is now a relatively rare occurrence, "nevertheless he would "love" to see the peculiar by today's standards 1955 Act, which in practice allows single glbt people to adopt but not if they are in a relationship, changed. Change may be slow coming, perhaps heralded by a tiny part of the Care of Children Act 2004, which opened one limited path to adoption. If the biological father agrees the female partner of the lesbian birth mother can become a legal guardian of the child. Something in the nature of a 'lesbian step-father,' (don't laugh, you don't know just how far through the Bill drafting process a term like that actually got!) but legally not quite the same as the no-strings option available to married straights, and certainly not adoption, and therefore not quite equal. In the end, for our glbt politicians, all of whom have familes and some of whom are parents or godparents, change to the Adoption Act 1955 itself may be as much about legal equality, of not being treated like second class citizens because of pre-conceived stereotypes or groundless fears, as it is about setting up same-sex couples for the joys and responsibilities of parenthood. Chris Carter, who with his partner Peter has embraced a number of children in a blended family, certainly believes equality and fairness is the goal. "All couples, regardless of their sexuality, should have the right to adopt children," he says. "It is my understanding that the birth mother now is the chief determiner as to who should adopt her child. If a birth mother chooses a gay couple then she should have every right to do so.  Currently, a birth mother can choose a single gay person as an adoptive parent.  Why should a gay couple be any different? The current law is just not logical or fair." Chances are there are heaps of little kids out there who need love and nurturing and guidance and a good home and plenty of unrelated glbt couples whose desire to raise a family is as strong and genuine as anyone else's. But the odds are that removal of the legal impediment to family life that is the Adoption Act 1955 isn't going to be changed any time soon. Jay Bennie - 21st August 2009    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Friday, 21st August 2009 - 9:19pm

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