The Standing Committee on Law and Justice of the NSW Legislative Council held public hearings on the 24th and 25th of February to hear evidence presented by those parties interested in the controversial issue of adoption by homosexual couples.
The terms of reference of this inquiry were:
1. Would allowing adoption by homosexual couples further the objectives of the Adoption Act 2000?
2. What has been the experience of other jurisdictions in Australia and overseas where homosexual adoption is allowed?
3. To ascertain whether there is already scope within existing programs for homosexual couples to adopt?
4. What are the implications for the children in homosexual adoptions?
5. If adoption by homosexual couples will promote the welfare of children then examining what legislative changes are required.
Organisational and community submissions had been received until 13 February 2009, with over 225 received across a range of lobbyists, interest groups and concerned individuals.
Some of the presenters were:
- Gay and lesbian people, couples and singles
- The pro-marriage, pro-family values organisations such as Family Voice Australia and the Australian Christian Lobby
- Christian churches such as Catholic Diocese of Sydney, and The Anglican Church
- Social welfare groups such as DOCS and Barnardo’s
- Child protection groups such as the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre
- Organisations authorised to handle adoptions, including church affiliated ones such as Anglicare
- Psychologists such as the Gay and Lesbian Issues in Psychology Interest Group of the Australian Psychological Society
- Government and legal agencies such as the Commission for Children and Young People
- Academics in the disciplines of Bioethics, Law, etc.
The definition of same sex adoption was not clarified, and can potentially include a number of different scenarios including:
- Adoption of a same-sex partner’s biological child, conceived either through IVF, a privately arranged donor, or a previous heterosexual relationship
- Adoption by a male couple of an unrelated child
- Adoption by a female couple of an unrelated child
The last two are separate categories because male and female same-sex couples frequently have different lifestyles and can lead to different outcomes for children. In other words, having ‘two mums’ is likely to be very different from having ‘two dads’. Some differences in male couples versus female couples are rates of domestic violence, length of relationship, drug and alcohol use, attitude toward sex with someone other than the partner, income, and social acceptance. All of these issues are very complex and cannot be covered in detail here. However the inquiry did not differentiate between these three categories, dealing with the term ‘same sex adoption’ as one legal entity.
In the United States, 24 of 50 states have granted the non-biological parent of a child born into a same-sex couple legal status with respect to that child. That is the least fraught scenario regarding same sex couple adoption. Only 6 American states have enacted measures to terminate the ability of gay individuals or couples to jointly adopt. Most of the American states allow single people to adopt children; a single gay person could easily adopt in this way. From the testimony of the one agency’s CEO this is a familiar pattern in Australia fostering placements. They know the couple is gay or lesbian but technically the applicant is single, has appropriate qualities for a carer, and the foster placement is granted without any question.
The representative from DOCS said that the Adoption Act 2000 does not specify anywhere that the preferred family is one male and one female, and that its assessments for placement are based solely on the criteria within the legal framework supplied by the Act.
Some groups did not believe that there are essential or important differences between men and women in the modern world, only personality differences between human beings, and that the old framework was outdated. Others suggested that the legal parenting arrangements already being made by multiple homosexual (and heterosexual parents) and partners should be reflected by updating the legislation to reflect modern social reality.
The catch phrase ‘in the best interest of the child’, was used by everyone on all sides, and can be interpreted very loosely. Having any family at all is considered by some to be most important criteria, not the gender structure of that family. Having the widest number of options to choose from is the best for children according to other expert witnesses, as it affirms ‘choice’. Those with a faith framework believe it is vital that children have both adult male and female role models to learn from, citing research that states that optimal psycho-sexual growth requires care and affirmation by a mother and father. However, all sides cited research that supports their worldview, highlighting the ideological divide apparent.
The Christian worldview recognises God’s intentions for families to be created by one male and one female who are committed and faithful to each other for life. Same sex couples are not capable of procreation; it is only through technology that this has become an option. The realities of the fallen world lead to many variations on this committed heterosexual couple ideal, including polygamy, step-parents, single parents, foster parents, gay adoptive parents with or without partners, once-straight parents who become gay with or without future partners, once straight parents who have sex changes so that the children legally have two parents of the same sex, some IVF parents who are not genetically related to the children, surrogate parenting with the result being 2, 3 or 4 acknowledged ‘parents’ in the child’s life. This is already happening in Australia.
In developing countries there are still orphanages where parentless children are warehoused in institutions with little hope of adoption. And let us not forget that in countries like Egypt there are millions of unwanted street children who have no organised social safety nets whatsoever.
Christians believe that the best environment for raising a child is with the natural parents who are in a committed relationship to each other. We can only watch with interest and pray that the parliamentarians responsible for the Inquiry will makes wise decisions after the hearings, research and testimonies have been fully considered.