Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Same-sex couples face injustice on adoption by Verity Firth

This was in the Sydney Morning Herald today and I'm just reposting it (lazy I know!)

Same-sex couples face injustice on adoption
Verity Firth
September 1, 2010

I recently met a family in my local electorate, Balmain. As in many
families, both parents work and go to playgroups and weekend sport. Their
cupboard is full of prepared gifts for the endless cycle of year 1 birthday
parties. They are expert in keeping the peace between their bossy daughter
and her baby brother.

The difference between this family and most others is the parents are gay.

Both men have the telltale bags under their eyes that come with juggling
work, raising two young children and trying to remember what a social life
was like. These are decent people who clearly have a deep love for their
kids and strong commitment to each other.

They came to talk to me about the inability of same-sex couples to adopt in
NSW. The issue affects their family directly. Despite raising children and
sharing their life together, only one is a legally recognised parent of
their children. The other has a parenting order, conferring many of the same
legal responsibilities, but there is no legal mechanism allowing his
parenthood to be properly recognised.

I left the meeting with two lasting impressions. The first was an easy
recipe for a bechamel cheese sauce to make recalcitrant four-year-olds eat
their veggies - which proved successful with my daughter. The second was a
deep sense of injustice about the existing adoption legislation.

Many arguments against same-sex adoption stem from a belief children have a
right to, or are best served by, a mother and a father. For most of us who
grew up with a mother and a father, perhaps this is an understandable
reaction. But it fails to acknowledge that many children grow up with single
parents or grandparents, in joint custody situations or with gay and lesbian
parents. When we deny these kids and their families legal rights, we are not
protecting children, we are punishing them for their family not resembling
the nuclear ''ideal''.

Research has repeatedly shown that kids growing up with gay parents are no
more likely to be gay, suffer from mental or physical illnesses or be
unfairly disadvantaged. In fact, one recent study suggested kids with two
mums were more likely to be well-adjusted and have higher self-esteem.

In 2008, I proudly supported the NSW government's recognition of lesbian
co-parents of children born through assisted reproductive technologies such
as IVF. The government has now removed every piece of discriminatory
legislation against lesbians, gay men and their families - other than the
Adoption Act.

The member for Sydney, Clover Moore, has introduced a bill to Parliament
seeking to remove adoption discrimination. I applaud her efforts. Both the
main parties have allowed their members a conscience vote on this, and it
looks like the vote will be close.

Adoption is not a right. Making same-sex couples eligible would not entitle
them to adopt children.

But reform would provide a mechanism for same-sex couples to have their
parenthood recognised, and to expand the pool of potential adoptive parents.
Currently, lesbian and gay step-parents and foster parents caring for
children across the state are unable to formalise that relationship.
Allowing adoption would provide these children with the legal and emotional
certainty of two legally recognised parents able to make medical decisions,
sign notes for school and ensure the children were protected if one parent
died.

Adoption equality is not just about substantive rights and legal
protections. Removing discrimination is about respecting human dignity and
ensuring everyone has the best possible opportunities in life, regardless of
their sexuality or that of their parents.

I was about 14 when it dawned on me that everyone should be free to love
whoever they fall in love with, and that a civilised society would never
stand in the way of something as giving and fundamentally human as this.

It is my firm belief same-sex couples and their children should have all the
same rights, responsibilities and protections as heterosexual couples and
their families. Discrimination on the basis of sexuality is completely
unsupported by any evidence, and more importantly is unjust.

I am proud to be supporting Moore's bill to remove the last piece of
discrimination against same-sex couples and their families. I look forward
to a day soon when unjust discrimination is a thing of the past.

Verity Firth is the NSW Labor state Minister for Education.