Thursday, 30 September 2010

Greens equality marriage bill back before Parliament : Brisbane Times
ADHD blamed on genetics, not upbringing: researchers

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Child safety officers feel the pressure: Brisbane Times

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Same sex adoption bill passes NSW parliament: ABC

Gays and lesbians should think before they have kids: court case

A recent Family Court case is a clear illustration for those thinking of having children: get advice before acting. In the case of Wilson and Farmer v Roberts and Boston, a gay couple and a lesbian couple were at loggerheads almost from the word go about a now 2 year old boy, called "E" in the judgment.

E was conceived in the usual way for such a child: sperm donation. Mr Farmer and Mr Wilson were friends with Ms Roberts and Ms Boston. Mr Wilson and Ms Boston had been friends for 17 years. The women asked the men if they would supply sperm so that a child could be conceived. The men always wanted to be fathers.

What was not considered, at sufficient length, was what role the men would play after the child was born.
The women evidently thought, at some level at least,  that the men would play a minimal role. The men however thought that they would play a substantial role. The result was fairly predictable: disaster:  counselling, followed by mediation then followed by a court case that at trial lasted 12 days.There was a complete breakdown of trust and respect between the four parties. There is no question that the court process would have cost a fortune, many tens of thousands of dollars each: money that could have been better spent on E.

I will write another post properly analysing this case. In the meantime, it is good to reflect that the couples should have had realistic and convergent aims before the child was born, that there should have been consideration by the women in particular as to what role the men should play after the birth of E, that may be they should have considered counselling together before the child was born, and certainly they should have obtained legal advice before the child was born. Once the child was born it was all too late.

Thank you to Jason Russo of QAHC for bringing this case to my attention.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

NSW: Opposition Leader supports the change

NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell invoked the spirit of the Anzacs in supporting the NSW bill to allow same sex adoptions. He said:

I support this measure today not only for the sake of the children but also because I do not believe our society should exclude, because of gender, sexuality, faith, background or some other factor, people who have a contribution to make. That is not the free, open and confident society I seek. Nor do I think it is the type of future envisaged by those who fought to secure our freedoms. 

Here is his speech:

In line with usual practice Liberal-National party members of Parliament have a conscience vote on the Adoption Amendment (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2010 (No. 2) on the basis of their views and the assessment of their consideration of the issues involved. I have high regard for conscience votes on issues like this where personal beliefs, political philosophy and community mores intersect. It is important that all members of Parliament think long and hard before casting their votes. Another benefit of these types of votes is the fact that debates like this are also generally conducted with a maximum of reason and tolerance is.

As deeply as we hold our views, as much as we may disagree with each other, we must surely respect each member's right to his or her own conscientious views. That respect is the reason I have declined, until now, to indicate my position on this legislation. In accordance with my usual practice on conscience votes, I have left my colleagues to form their views, make their decisions, free of any influence of their party leader. And debates like this have been difficult, and this debate has been difficult. There are strongly held views for and against same-sex adoptions across the community; there are strongly held views within each of our electorates.

Issues—theoretical and real life—have been raised and of course what is at stake are the lives of children. This is a debate in which the interests of children should be the sole concern. This is not—and should not—be a gay rights debate. So it is disappointing to see the Sydney Morning Herald today give the caption of gay rights to its reporting of this bill. I note in passing that while the Sydney Morning Herald has yet to editorialise in relation to this matter, the Daily Telegraph has, and it has come down in favour of the legislation. The reason that this is not a gay rights debate but one about children is happily defined in section 8 of the Adoption Act, which makes it clear that "no adult has a right to adopt a child". That Act also makes clear that its purpose is:

      to emphasise that the best interests of the child concerned, both in childhood and later life, must be the paramount consideration in adoption law and practice.

Section 8 (2) sets out 11 principles to be considered in determining the best interests of individual children being adopted.

      These include any wishes expressed by the child—or his or her birth parents—and include the nature of any relationship with the proposed adoptive parents.

In submission to the Legislative Council inquiry, the Department of Community Services detailed the general criteria used to assess prospective adoptive parents. Those criteria are focused around child welfare. They are rigorous and they are applied firmly and fairly by those who seek to make these choices on behalf of those children for adoption. Those arguing for this legislation have made the point that what it simply seeks to do is allow same-sex couples to be considered under these rules and regulations. In one of the many letters I have received and read on this issue—from people arguing for and against this bill—solicitor Philippa Davis from the Hawkesbury Nepean Community Legal Centre wrote:

      While no one has the right to adopt, same sex couples should be assessed, like all other couples and individuals, according to objective criteria on their individual capacity to provide a loving and stable home to a child.

For me it is all about that loving and stable environment. Like many others speakers, I believe that the ideal setting to bring up children is a loving and stable family environment with both a mother and a father present. It is the environment in which most of us—but not all—in this place have been raised. There are many others from which young people emerge but it is the ideal and not the only family type that exists across our community. There are many others from which young people emerge confidently and capable of making their contribution to our community. But as welfare workers can attest and as the member for Goulburn has already raised in this debate, there are other families in which children regrettably do not get the care, love and nurture they deserve and need. Indeed, in some of these family situations terrible harm is caused to children; damage that can last a lifetime, deadly harm at times, as the Department of Community Services and grandparents can too readily attest—and these are straight or heterosexual families. These are families that look like the typical nuclear family but are environments in which explosions of violence and abuse rob children of their futures.

Let us be honest about something: it is not gay men who are abusing women and abandoning children, it is straight men. The question for those of us concerned with the interests of the child in this debate is why should certain couples—because of sexual preference—not be eligible to be assessed according to laws and regulations that by any measure place child wellbeing at the centre of decision-making? Consider this question against current legislation and current practice. Under current laws and practice there is no legal barrier to same-sex couples becoming foster carers. Last year's Legislative Council inquiry heard evidence from such couples and from welfare agencies about their experiences. I was unable to find any criticism or concerns expressed about the care foster children are receiving from same-sex families in New South Wales in this day and age.

Further, under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act same-sex couples can be and are being awarded long-term parental responsibility for children in their care. Again this is happening in New South Wales today. In New South Wales, individuals are also currently able to adopt children—including individuals who are gay or lesbian. Most of these gay or lesbian individuals are, in fact, in same-sex relationships. They are subjected to the same rigorous checks from State adoption agencies that apply to other families, including the stability and the commitment in the home environment. But as the law currently stands in New South Wales only one person in such a relationship is legally able to adopt the child.

It is a situation that raises a number of issues about the interests of those children. Think about this: if my partner or I died, the surviving partner would remain the legal guardian and carer of our two boys—an obvious and necessary certainty in a time of grief and distress, but not obvious or certain for a family in which one gay or lesbian individual has adopted a child and that person dies. Imagine the uncertainty, imagine the added grief—and then try and explain the logic of our existing laws. That is the situation in New South Wales today. How does such a situation reflect the best interests of a child?

In 1996 the New South Wales Status of Children Act recognised female same-sex de facto couples who conceived through assisted reproductive technology as the parents of their child. In 1999 the New South Wales Property (Relationships) Amendment Bill included same-sex couples within the definition of "de facto". The Adoption Act is the only remaining piece of New South Wales legislation in which the definition of "de facto couple" does not include same-sex couples. Yet under Federal legislation—the Family Law Act—same-sex families are recognised for the purposes of child-related custody and property matters. Today's bill is not creating a new class of family; same-sex families with children are a reality of life already and it is estimated that around 1,300 children live within such families across New South Wales. This bill simply gives stable, committed couples, regardless of their sexuality, who want to adopt a child equal access to a process that will not treat them equally, a process that in seeking to protect the best interests of the child will comprehensively review and test the competency, background and environment of all those who apply to adopt, a process that will result in a decision on each case that will discriminate and show preference but will do so in favour of the interests of the child concerned, irrespective of the sexuality of the couple involved.

A number of amendments to this legislation have been foreshadowed. I support the right of faith-based adoption agencies to be able to reflect their teachings. The bill before us has been amended to ensure that it will not be unlawful for such agencies to refuse adoption services to same-sex couples. I also indicate my in-principle support for the amendment foreshadowed by the member for Rockdale. I believe it is beneficial and positive to reflect the right of consent of birth parents in the State's adoption legislation; it is a positive. I note comments on the matter by Anglicare in today's media. This would ensure that those giving up their children for adoption could, perhaps because of cultural, faith or other background reasons, indicate a preference for the child to be raised in a similar family environment.

I propose to support this legislation with those amendments. I do so out of a concern for the best interests of those children who are being adopted. I do so to eradicate uncertainties under current arrangements involving children in same-sex families. I do so, recognising that the ideal of a loving and present father and mother is often not realised. I do so because I do not believe we should prevent adoption by same-sex couples who may offer a love and stability that is absent from too many homes at present. Recently I attended a commemoration for those who fought and died for this country. Like so many other commemorations we attend, it was meaningful and moving, and it was well attended by ageing veterans and their children. The guest speaker was the child of a decorated veteran, a parent and gay.

We listened, as members of Parliament often do, to a talk about the extraordinary efforts that ordinary Australians had made during both world wars; how, despite the horrors and deprivations they suffered, these men, and the women, the nurses, who supported them, did so willingly and valiantly. As I sat listening my thoughts turned again to the motivation of those service personnel. They fought that we might be free. They were prepared to die—and too many did—so that we could enjoy the freedom to determine our own futures and paths in life. They wanted us, the generations that have followed, to enjoy the best possible lives. So I support this measure today not only for the sake of the children but also because I do not believe our society should exclude, because of gender, sexuality, faith, background or some other factor, people who have a contribution to make. That is not the free, open and confident society I seek. Nor do I think it is the type of future envisaged by those who fought to secure our freedoms.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Keneally: why same sex adoption accords with Jesus

As a Christian and a Catholic, NSW Premier Kristina Keneally gave a powerful speech as to why same sex adoption should be allowed, based on the views of Jesus as expressed in the New Testament. She stated that Jesus did not specifically address the question of homosexuality, but did talk about love. She said that one of the greatest examples of love was that of parents towards children.

Here is the full speech:

I speak to the Adoption Amendment (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2010 (No. 2).I will not canvass the objects of the bill as they are well-known and have been well described by [Clover Moore] the member for Sydney. This bill is not ordinary business. It goes to core beliefs about how families form and how children are raised. It requires us to consider views that will either be in conflict or in congruence with our values and beliefs, which are formed by our personal experiences and therefore deeply held. For many of us it raises issues of faith. As leader I determined that such an issue entitles members of my party to a conscience vote. As a result, this bill may or may not pass through this Chamber.

As leader I have not sought to engineer a result. I respect that each member will bring their personal perspectives, beliefs and judgement to this issue. I also acknowledge that the Cabinet previously resolved to introduce an amendment to the bill to provide an exemption for faith-based adoption agencies from the provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977. However, the Minister for Community Services discussed the Government's intention with the member for Sydney who has instead incorporated the amendment into the legislation. I acknowledge and welcome that. As members of Parliament we make judgements about what is in the best interest of the communities we represent, but this task carries additional complexity and weight when considering those who are unable to speak for themselves. In this case those people are children who are unable to be cared for by their birth parents or children who are unable to have their parental relationship legally recognised.

The decision to place a child in the legal care of a person who is not their birth parent is one of the most significant decisions a State can take. There are few areas where a democratic State has such a direct and intimate impact on the lives of individuals. In New South Wales decisions about adoption are made in the best interest of the child. No-one has an absolute legal right to adopt in New South Wales. This amendment does not change that principle. Similarly this amendment will have no change to overseas adoptions, which are governed by inter-country arrangements that do not permit adoption by same-sex couples. Nonetheless, this bill still presents a significant change to our current practices regarding adoption in New South Wales. Our consideration is therefore: Does it serve the interests of the children it will affect and how do we assess that question? In forming my position on this bill I have considered my experiences as a mother, my responsibilities as a parliamentarian, and my conscience as a Christian and member of the Catholic faith. I will speak to each of these experiences to outline why I am supporting this legislation.

As a Christian and as a Catholic I accept that some may legitimately question how I can hold a position that appears to be in contrast to the teachings of my faith. I understand this and I will address it directly. The Catholic Church upholds the primacy of conscience and teaches that individuals must follow their own—this was reaffirmed at the Second Vatican Council. However, the Catholic Church is also clear that an individual has an obligation to fully form his or her conscience and that they do so by considering both faith and reason—that is, a fully formed conscience considers human experience and examines the revelation of God in the Scriptures, and the teachings of the church. In talking about such things I accept that I do so as a layperson, and not one that can lay claim to particular teaching authority. However, that is to some extent the point for it is precisely this type of examination that the church asks of each individual Catholic.

Our understanding of the Scriptures is not static, but rather unfolds and deepens as it is interpreted in light of our experience. Before I speak to my experience, let me first examine the Scriptures. For any Christian the most important are the Gospels; the four books that present the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. However, none of the Gospels record Jesus specifically addressing the issue of homosexuality. What then did Jesus teach that might be useful for a Catholic seeking to fully form their conscience on this issue? First, Jesus talked about family. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus is told that his mother and brothers are outside waiting for him to finish preaching. His reply was:

Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.

The lesson I take from this is that family is not necessarily limited to those who are directly related. The bonds of a family can be created in other ways—in this case, spiritually. Here Jesus is characterising family in broad and accepting terms and this challenges me to do the same. Secondly, Jesus talked about children. He valued them, and demanded that others do the same. When some were seeking to keep children from approaching Jesus, he said:

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

But mostly, Jesus talked about love. He talked about it constantly:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
      By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. Greater love hath no one than this, than to lay down his life for another. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbour as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.
For Jesus, the law that is to govern above all else is that we are to love one another. And not just any love, but an unselfish love, a love that seeks to mirror God's love for us, a love that is shown not just to our relatives, not just to our friends, but to all those around us. We are to love them as much as we love ourselves. This love would be so great that we would give up our lives for another human being. This is the overwhelming message of the Gospels—a message of unselfish, giving, self-sacrificing love.

Surely one of the greatest examples of that love we can find in our own society is in the selflessness and the sacrifice that parents make for their children. Parents sublimate their own needs and desires in order to give their children what they need. Parents show unconditional and undemanding love to their children. The love parents show to their child is, arguably, the best example of how humans love one another as God loves them. Most parents show this love to children to whom they give birth. But some parents choose to show this same self-sacrificing love to a child that they did not give birth to. To my mind and in my soul, this is exactly the kind of love that the Gospels show Jesus expressing and exhorting us to demonstrate.

As a Catholic, I am also asked by the Church to consider its teachings in forming my conscience. The Church's teachings are expressed in documents and statements by bishops, the Pope and the ecclesiastical councils. These documents all make clear statements about the positive nature of human beings, the role and importance of the family and the distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity. Time does not permit me to elaborate on each of these points at length but to address them in summary. The Church teaches that: children should be raised in a family that consists of a mother and a father; that all humans are created in the image and likeness of God; that homosexual orientation, in itself, is not sinful or blameworthy but that homosexual activity is; and that homosexual persons should not be the subject of discrimination or vilification.

The first point on families is not insubstantial in Catholic teaching. The Catholic Church teaches that families are formed by the sacrament of marriage between a man and a woman and that the family is the fundamental unit of society which exists for the purpose of creating and nurturing of children. Sexual activity outside of marriage, therefore, is considered sinful by the church for it does not take place within the unit of the family for the purpose of conception and procreation. The Church's teachings on homosexuality make a clear distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity. The Church accepts that homosexual orientation is not, in itself, sinful. Church teaching articulates that homosexual orientation is something discovered in, not chosen by, individuals. The Church, however, does condemn homosexual activity, and it does so for similar reasons that it condemns heterosexual activity outside of marriage. It is on this point that I have questioned and continue to question the Church's teachings. I do not accept that a homosexual orientation, which is not sinful and which occurs in individuals created in the image of God, necessarily becomes sinful when an individual acts upon it. The Church itself struggles with maintaining this distinction. As the US bishops expressed in their document "Human Sexuality in 1990", this distinction is "not always clear and convincing" but it "is a helpful and important one when dealing with the complex issue of homosexuality".

Similarly, I do not accept the Church's view that sexual activity must always be for the purposes of conception and procreation. In reality, the Church does not hold this view in all circumstances. For example, there is no prohibition on infertile married couples. This is because the Church does recognise that sexual activity can be, alongside its purposes for procreation, an example of the giving of two people to another as an act of love. In fact, in many places in Scripture the act of such love is analogous to the love God has for God's people.

Finally, in forming my conscience as a Catholic my Church also asks me to consider what I know in terms of human experience. I know as a mother that the greatest gifts I can give to my children are unconditional love and a nurturing and stable home. I know as a parliamentarian that three groups of children in New South Wales are currently vulnerable under existing adoption laws and that this amendment would help address that vulnerability. The first group are children who currently live in a family with two same-sex parents where one of the parents is not fully recognised under the law. They are currently denied legal and material benefits flowing from adoption, including confirming the child's entitlement to inheritance if their parent dies and providing certainty about custody if one parent dies. This puts these children in a vulnerable position.

The second group are children who are fostered by same-sex couples but cannot be adopted by their foster parents. This is a particularly vulnerable group of children. They can no longer be cared for by their birth parents. What we know is that for children in this situation the stability of adoption by their foster parents provides the best possible chance for their development, their health, their wellbeing and their education. A third and much smaller group are children who are adopted after their birth parents have relinquished them. I am advised that last year in New South Wales there were only 20 such adoptions. This legislation would make it legal for these children to be adopted by same-sex parents. However, under the Adoption Act the views of the relinquishing parents must be considered in relation to what is in the best interest of the child. This includes any views regarding same-sex parenting. The proposed legislation makes no change in this regard.

I know that the majority of the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice members were persuaded by ample evidence that the primary determinant of a child's development is how their family functions and not the gender or sexuality of their parents. I share that view. Therefore, what my experience tells me, and what our common experience tells us, is that the best interests of a child are served by the stability, love and care that legal adoption provides, regardless of the sexuality of the parents.

I recognise that these issues are complex and nuanced and they demand respectful attention. Particularly to those who share my faith, I say that in my mind the Gospel message is one of acceptance. Jesus was not a man of judgement but rather a man of love. When I look at this issue about the adoption of children who are vulnerable, children who would know no other love and acceptance, and I see people offering up that unselfish love to a child, it is something that I, not just as a Christian and a Catholic but as the Leader of this State, want to support. In considering my decision, I have sought to form my conscience fully. I have considered the Gospel, and particularly Jesus' teaching that all laws of the Church should be based on the commandment to love God and to love one another. I have observed how same-sex parents show us examples of that love in how they sublimate their needs for the children in their care. Perhaps most compellingly I have reflected my own experience of such love, first as a child and now as a parent. I am fully appreciative of the empowerment a child receives when love and stability is provided in their life. In considering all of that, I must, in my conscience, support this legislation.

Monday, 6 September 2010

NSW same sex adoption: shadow minister in support of change

The shadow minister for community services, former sex discrimination commissioner and John Howard biographer Pru Goward  spoke in favour  of same sex adoption. She spoke of the sense of entitlement of parents, as opposed to the long and arduous adoption process, and the view of parents to certain rights over children, as opposed to those caring for children having responsibilities.

Ms Goward made it plain that heterosexual parenting is not necessarily better than homosexual parenting:

There are 16,000 children living in New South Wales who have been removed from the care of their parents because of neglect or abuse. In my limited experience as shadow Minister in the dozens of cases brought to my attention I have not encountered one case in which a child has been removed from a same-sex household. That certainly does not mean that homosexual households are better places to raise children but it means that heterosexuality has no monopoly on better parenting.

Here is the whole speech: 

I support the Adoption Amendment (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2010 (No. 2) in principle and look forward to addressing the amendments that I understand will be proposed at the Committee stage. I support the bill, but with mixed feelings. On one hand, there is the determination to protect the rights of the child and, on the other hand, there is some disappointment at the nature of the debate and the political cloud that has enveloped it. It is disappointing that a bill to legalise same-sex adoption has been presented as a homosexual or same-sex rights bill when, in my view, it has almost nothing to do with same-sex rights and everything to do with the rights of the child—a point to which I will return.

This has placed the debate over this bill in a highly charged environment, with members of the public believing that to oppose it is unfair to homosexuals or same-sex couples and that, conversely, to support the bill is immoral, undermines Christian values and, in my case, would damage me politically as I represent a so-called conservative regional electorate. I am a practising Christian who has been highly involved in the activities of my church and I believe I speak from those same Christian values that have driven others to oppose the bill. Such is the role of values.

It is my view that the people of New South Wales understand the role of the conscience vote. Historically it has been used in only a limited fashion and has been confined to matters of social or religious values. The electorate appreciates that it is not possible for their elected representative to agree with all views simultaneously, and when they elect their parliamentary representative they elect that person understanding that there will from time to time be occasions when the elected member's conscience does not agree with theirs. Electors vote for or against us appreciating that our personal values and capacity for judgement will need to be exercised from time to time and, as is the Australian way, I believe that personal differences can be understood and respected in our communities. On this issue I have neither polled nor focus group-tested my communities in the Goulburn electorate. I am confident that they believe I will do what I think is right, as will all others in this House.

It would be a great deal easier to oppose this bill; the status quo rarely needs defending to the same degree as change, and in any case I strongly support the notion that children are theoretically entitled to be brought up by both a mother and a father. In the best of all possible worlds, a man and a woman united in love and care for each other with the common purpose of giving their children the best childhood and opportunities in life is an ideal. I appreciate that there is some research to the contrary, as the Minister opined. But in my experience children thrive where the family has both a man and a woman as parents and where there is the opportunity for male and female role-modelling and mentoring. A diversity of experiences for the child to draw upon, much like diversity in the workplace, uncontroversially is considered to provide better outcomes. That is why we have Father's Day as well as Mother's Day—to celebrate, apart from anything else, the different things our parents do for us.

Same-sex families where the other biological parent is also regularly involved in the child's life is a mature way of recognising this absence and is increasingly common. But the truth is there are a number of very obvious reasons why we no longer live in a world where father and mother families are the only option. In New South Wales, homosexuals can already adopt a child and do. Single parent families are increasingly common. Open adoption often means a child has a relationship with both its adoptive and natural parents. Homosexual foster parents are part of almost all out-of-home-care agencies, including faith-based agencies. In other words, we have long since accepted that the interests of the child come first and that if a homosexual person or couple is best placed to give a child the love and protection they need, then that must be the overwhelming principle that drives the decision to allow them to adopt. I have had, as has the Minister and I suspect others in the place, very moving correspondence from children raised in same-sex households who believe they were raised happily, safely and to their benefit.

It also has to be said that there are many heterosexual families where the children are abused and neglected. There are 16,000 children living in New South Wales who have been removed from the care of their parents because of neglect or abuse. In my limited experience as shadow Minister in the dozens of cases brought to my attention I have not encountered one case in which a child has been removed from a same-sex household. That certainly does not mean that homosexual households are better places to raise children but it means that heterosexuality has no monopoly on better parenting. Surely a child is better off in the home of two people who love the child and each other than with a couple who beat and mistreat the child or each other. That is certainly the direction given to the courts by governments of both persuasions over the years, and in that sense the sexual preferences of the couple are a secondary consideration in adoption matters. In my electorate I know several same-sex couples who are outstanding foster carers, especially since these children very often have high needs.

One of the challenges I constantly confront as shadow Minister for Community Services is the sense of entitlement among parents and step-parents that because they are the birth mother, the stepfather or the birth father they are entitled to spend the family allowance specifically provided for their children on gambling, drugs or alcohol, or to abuse and neglect a child without reprimand or accountability because the child is theirs. Even in families without child protection histories there is frequent evidence that parents believe they have a right to treat their children as they see fit, unfettered by responsibilities. Of course, as the legally competent person they are entitled and required to make decisions on behalf of the child, to expect standards of behaviour and even to impose their values and culture upon a child as part of that child's upbringing.

In a loving family environment, whether it be same-sex or heterosexual, parental responsibilities, including responsibility for the provision of care, education and other gifts, but also responsibility for imposing discipline, limits and rules, merge with the adult's rights, such as private property rights, cultural and religious rights and rights of personal taste, to form a safe and predictable family framework. Each family's framework is inevitably different. In these circumstances the functioning family is essentially beyond the reach of the courts and of the State—love, care and commitment being the electromagnetic bonds within a family that combine to produce safe and happy children and resilient and functioning adults of the next generation.

Our children struggle from our bodies into the world fragile, unasked and unprotected; and it is we, their parents, who have no rights to that parenthood but instead have an enormous responsibility which we must constantly earn—and most of us do. Conversely, the newborn child has a number of rights and absolutely no responsibilities. Teaching responsibility occurs throughout childhood and is an essential part of bringing up a child to adulthood. It is one of the most frustrating aspects of this debate that the rights of the child to a safe and happy upbringing are conflated with the rights of homosexual couples to be parents. In my view people have no rights at all to be parents. It is a great privilege and enormous responsibility, but it is not a right, except in the narrowest sense that people are primarily born with the physiological capacity to form offspring.

I do not see this debate as at all linked with the homosexual or same-sex rights debate. In this I differ with my colleagues the member for Balmain and the member for Canterbury who have argued that this bill is about removing a form of discrimination against gay people. It is not because I see parenthood not as a right but as a great responsibility and honour. Adoption is not a right for parents. As the long and arduous adoption process demonstrates, it must be earned and proven to be appropriate. Nor do I believe that homosexual or same-sex adoption will inevitably lead to the legalisation of same-sex marriage, again because same-sex adoption is not about the rights of same-sex people and thus cannot be connected with the marriage debate. Indeed, were a same-sex marriage bill to be introduced in this place—of course, the Marriage Act is a Federal Act—I believe a number of us would indicate in our voting preference exactly where we stood on the same-sex marriage issue and its connection with same-sex adoption.

What we might all and must agree is that this bill is about the rights of a child to have parents who love them and, even more importantly, care for them and to bring them up. We are talking about people who are prepared to put themselves through the adoption process, which involves the ceaseless examination of criminal records, financial support, psychological soundness and so on, to prove themselves fit to be the legal parent of a child. In opposing the bill before us we would then deny children the full enjoyment of that right to live in a loving and stable home with two parents whether they be of the same sex or heterosexual. We know from all the research that almost always these children are the biological offspring of one of the partners in a same-sex relationship.

This legislation is about enabling the non-natural parent to assume the legal responsibilities, not the legal rights, available to the natural parent. It means that the non-birth parent is also responsible when things go wrong, that the child has the right to stay, see or even live with that parent should the parental relationship break up, and a legal responsibility to provide for the child in their estate after death and during the child's upbringing. These are not always easy responsibilities and I see no notion of right being attached to any of them. Even the so-called right to visit a child in hospital is really the responsibility to visit the child that one cares for and the child's right to expect that its parents will both be able to attend them.

I understand that many foster parents seek to adopt their children and that this process currently takes a number of years. During those years the views of the natural parents are sought and the record of the foster parents in caring for the children is closely considered by the court. It has been said that natural parents might not give their children up for adoption if they believe the child would be adopted by same-sex parents. We are talking in this instance of that very small number of adoptions where the adoptive parents and child are not known to each other. That consideration might also apply to natural parents who would prefer their child to be adopted by others of the same race, religion or even disability as themselves.

For this reason, I understand an amendment to the anti-discrimination legislation has been proposed that would enable faith-based adoption agencies to exercise these same discriminatory judgements and has been incorporated in this bill. I welcome that change. In any event, by exempting faith-based adoption agencies from this bill, there is already the capacity for natural parents to seek to process their adoption through an agency with a similar view to their own about same-sex or heterosexual family preferences and, indeed, about ethnicity or religion.

I understand also that there is the possibility of an amendment that would limit this bill to adoptions where there is a biological link with one of the adoptive parents, as is the case in Tasmania. Although that would limit the impact of the bill considerably, I believe it would also make it much more acceptable to those many members of this House who are concerned that stranger adoptions would give heterosexual couples equal footing with homosexual couples when there is a strong view in the community that, all things being equal, heterosexual families are preferable. I see this as an academic debating point because all things are never in reality equal. However, I await the amendment with interest.

I support this bill as a social conservative. I believe in parental commitment, in particular as a means of underpinning the rights of children to a happy and safe childhood of hope and promise. I do not believe that the thin edge of the wedge argument necessarily applies here because it is always up to the good judgement of the Parliament of the day. That is why, for example, the legality of a homosexual individual being able to adopt should not be seen as the thin edge of the wedge for same-sex couple adoption. The importance of children being adopted by those who will primarily love and care for them makes their own sexual preferences very much a secondary consideration, as the courts well know.

What adults choose to do with their relationships is, these days, pretty much up to them. In an age when women are able to enjoy financial and legal independence, commitment in relationships is a personal choice and no longer a legal necessity for the protection of the weaker party. However, for children, so frail and so very vulnerable, it is different. For them I strongly believe that growing up within a committed environment, where both, not one, of their parents is legally as well as notionally committed to protecting, rearing, encouraging and developing them throughout their childhood, is what will make the difference through the legal confirmation of those parental responsibilities. It is true that de facto heterosexual couples enjoy similar parental responsibilities to married parents. However, that is precisely because de facto couples may be married. Because same-sex couples cannot marry they therefore cannot have de facto parental obligations conferred upon them. ...

Indeed, enabling same-sex adoption removes one very powerful argument for same-sex marriage; that is, the need to protect the rights of the children who are part of that relationship. We all know the difference commitment makes to a relationship and how, in the case of adoption, that commitment must be even harder fought for than it is for those of us lucky enough to bear our children or to be their biological parent. Children may nor may not do better in families with same-sex parents than in heterosexual households. That is clearly open to debate. However, in my view as a social conservative, children will do better in families where both parents are committed to those children. For biological parents, culture, history and deep instincts make that easier. For those who are not so connected, the commitment of legal parentage through adoption will go a long way towards strengthening those bonds.

This is certainly not to say that there are not same-sex couples where both are equally committed to the children, whoever is the biological parent. However, a bit like heterosexual parentage, the relationship of itself is no guarantee of that. A formalising of the bond between each parent and the child does in my view make the difference. I commend the bill and look forward to considering the amendments that will be proposed. We must put the happiness and wellbeing of our children first. Modern life, especially modern family life, is too varied, too complex and too different to justify restricting parenthood. Instead, we must promote parenting that gives each child the same right to love, care and commitment. This is indeed the right thing.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

NSW same sex adoption: DOCS minister in support

Labor and coalition members of the NSW Parliament were granted a conscience vote regarding Clover Moore's bill to allow same sex adoption.

A politician strongly in favour of the bill was the Minister in charge of adoptions, Linda Burney, the Minister for Community Services:

In speaking to the Adoption Amendment (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2010 (No. 2) I am conscious that I am one of the very early speakers in this debate. I hope and expect that we will keep this important debate civilised, balanced and respectful in this House—I am sure that we will. I begin my contribution with a true story about a little foster child—we will call her Lily–who was taken into care at the age of 11. Lily grew up in a very chaotic household. Her mum was addicted to drugs and often disappeared. Lily was seriously neglected. She had to get herself to school and could not predict what she would find when she got home. Her mother had many different partners. Lily was exposed to domestic violence and grew up in an emotionally toxic environment. Home was anything but a safe and warm place. Lily's foster parents, however, have remained a constant and stable presence in her life. Lily is now 24 years old and has a 3-year-old baby boy. Her foster parents are actively involved in the life of this little boy whom they consider their grandchild. They now care for their grandson two days a week. They are a lesbian couple.

As Minister responsible for the Adoption Act I take a special interest in this bill, and I commend the member for Sydney for introducing it. I recall very clearly the day I realised as Minister that we had policy inconsistencies regarding our adoption laws in New South Wales. We allow a single gay person to adopt but not a gay couple. We allow gay couples to foster then prohibit them from adopting their foster child. This bill is our opportunity to repair this injustice and give these children the legal and emotional certainty they deserve. I make it very clear that I wholeheartedly support this bill as a member of Parliament, as a Minister and, first and foremost, as an individual. I support this bill because it is a social justice issue, it is a matter of common sense and it removes discrimination.

This bill will amend the Adoption Act 2000 to enable children to be adopted by couples of the same sex. Importantly, the bill includes an amendment to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 in recognition of the values and beliefs of faith-based organisations that provide a significant share of adoption services in New South Wales. This amendment exempts those organisations from the legal obligation to provide their services to same-sex couples, thereby ensuring the continuation of their important work—I will say more on this shortly. The House may recall that as from May 2009 an amendment of the Adoption Regulation 2003 has been in effect. It makes sure that the primary focus of the assessment of prospective adoptive parents is not their age or marital status but their parenting capacity. This to guard the best interests of the children involved. The effect of this bill is essentially an extension of the amendment. It will allow this "best interest" principle to operate most effectively by allowing adoption by a gay couple where it is the best interest of the child.

The Premier's laudable decision to allow a conscience vote on this bill is testament to the emotions and sometimes also the misunderstandings and fears this bill generates. That is what makes this debate so incredibly important. As elected representatives we must find the balance between logic and emotion, navigating as many personal beliefs and convictions as there are members of this House. We have a longstanding tradition in this Chamber and in Western democracies in general to rate evidence-based policy highly. We do not allow our decisions in this House to be guided only by sentiment. The bill is strongly backed by evidence and independent peer-reviewed research. It is evidence-based.

The inquiry of the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice into same-sex adoption investigated the research on the impact of sexual orientation on child rearing. This research shows that it is the way the family functions and not its structure that is the critical factor in promoting the welfare and wellbeing of children. Put another way, having a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child depends much more on what their parents do than on whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. This is consistent with broader child wellbeing research that has shown time and again the importance of a loving, stable, accepting relationship with parents who prioritise the needs of their children and are prepared to work at developing and sustaining a positive attachment. These are the factors that present children with the best possible chance in life.

As Minister for Community Services the advice I have received from child care and protection experts is that same-sex couples are fully able to provide these elements for children in their care. I am not aware of independent peer-reviewed research backing up the view that children suffer or are disadvantaged in some way without a mother and a father. I am convinced that it is our responsibility as representatives to make laws on the basis of evidence. Sometimes we need to make decisions that are confronting for some of our constituents, and then we need to explain our reasons for these decisions.

Many highly regarded non-government organisations such as Barnardos, the Benevolent Society and Uniting Care Burnside have expressed their strong support of this bill. They have done so on the basis of the research and, importantly, on the basis of their own experiences with same-sex parents. I am advised that one- third of the children in Barnardos care are adopted by their foster parents. This is the best outcome for these children, providing them with security and stability. Adoption means they are no longer shuffled around the child welfare system but enjoy the security of a family. These are children who would otherwise have nobody, children who would otherwise be at the mercy of the welfare system. Of the foster carers at Barnardos, 8 per cent are gay. Do their children not have the same rights to security and identity as other children? UnitingCare states:

      We believe that this is consistent with our Christian heritage and beliefs .... the mere fact that the prospective parents are in a same-sex relationship should not, of itself, be a barrier to adoption .

The Benevolent Society says:

      Potential adoptive parents should be assessed on the basis of their suitability to parent, not their sexual orientation.

Three leading child welfare professionals say:

      Children think about who will care for them if their "parents" die, they notice when one "parent" is unable to sign permission notes at school or can't consent to medical treatment; this bill remedies these uncertainties for the child and places them on a level playing field with their friends.

Those experts are Gillian Calvert, former Commissioner for Children and Young People, Associate Professor Judith Cashmore from the University of Sydney Law Faculty, and Emeritus Professor Dorothy Scott, inaugural Director of the Australian Child Protection Centre. These are just a few examples of the countless individuals and organisations who have expressed their support for this bill.

In coming to a decision on this issue we must recognise the diversity of families across our community. Notwithstanding the personal, moral and religious beliefs of members of this House and their constituents, the fact is that gay and lesbian couples do have and will continue to have children, care for children and be parents to children. The current law hurts children with gay and lesbian parents by denying legal and social recognition to their families. At the moment only one parent of a same-sex couple can adopt a child. If something happens to the adoptive parent the non-adoptive parent is left without legal rights and, therefore, the children are left without a legal parent and without security and stability. This bill will provide those children with the recognition and protections through adoption by both their carers—the same recognition and protections available to all other children in New South Wales.

Apart from a social justice issue we are also talking about a socioeconomic issue. This bill will not cost the taxpayer, but it does prevent a significant number of children being dependent on the welfare system for longer than necessary. These children will be able to transfer into more stable arrangements where they will be less reliant on the State for their care. It is relevant to note that this bill will not affect inter-country adoptions. None of the countries that have adoption agreements with Australia allow same-sex couples to apply. Local adoption involves children being put up for adoption in New South Wales. A very important point is that the preferences of biological parents are an important factor in the assessment of prospective adopting parents. Fewer than 20 children in this category are adopted each year.

The bill will have the greatest positive impact on known adoptions. This category includes relationships where a partner of a parent, biological or adoptive, is raising a child and cases where foster parents seek to adopt a child in their care. It is in this category that allowing adoption by couples of the same sex will have the greatest benefit by formalising longstanding family relationships and giving the children of these relationships the same rights that any other child in New South Wales already has. These children deserve our legal recognition and protection as much as any other child. The positive impact of these amendments is significant. It removes uncertainty for these children, allowing both partners to make legal decisions about the children they raise as their own. It gives them greater financial, social and legal security.

Finally, the bill allows children who are in foster care with same-sex carers and are unable to safely return to their parents to have a permanent plan for their future in a nurturing, secure home with positive and lasting family relationships. The amendments proposed by this bill are in step with legislation in other jurisdictions. In the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia all same-sex couples may apply to adopt jointly. Tasmania allows for same-sex step-parent adoption. Thirty-four out of the 50 American States allow or do not restrict gay couples from applying to jointly adopt. Moreover, gay couples may adopt in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

I will now comment on the exemption for faith-based organisations that is included in the bill. In New South Wales four agencies provide adoption services—Community Services, Barnardos, Anglicare and Catholic Adoption Services. Anglicare and Catholic Adoption Services are faith-based organisations. Whatever one's personal beliefs, the submissions of faith-based organisations to the inquiry by the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues into same-sex adoptions bear out the conviction of religious groups with respect to this issue. The contributions faith-based organisations make to the wider community—for example, their work caring for the dispossessed, the homeless, and the marginalised—cannot be underestimated. They are an integral part of our pluralist society and provide stability, security and guidance to many. Successive governments have built an effective partnership with religious organisations.

New South Wales should be proud of its pluralist tradition. We all expect to live out our beliefs in co-operative co-existence, where our beliefs do not have a detrimental impact on the quality of life of others in our community. I believe what is required in this debate is to find a balance between law and conscience and between equality and freedom. The employees of Anglicare and Catholic Adoption Services do not leave their beliefs at home when they leave for work every day. The question then is: Does the exemption for faith-based organisations, as included in the proposed bill, result in the religious beliefs of faith-based adoption service providers prevailing over the rights and the ability of same-sex couples to adopt a child in New South Wales? The answer is no. Gay couples will have full and equal access to adoption through New South Wales Community Services and Barnardos. Examples in the United Kingdom show negative outcomes where faith-based organisations were not provided with an automatic exemption.

Many people have raised with me the timing of this bill and whether this issue is our responsibility. Of course it is our responsibility: it is up to us because this issue is not going to go away until we address it right here. Most importantly, we cannot allow discrimination to continue when we see it. We cannot allow the children of these families to be treated as second-class citizens. [Extension of time agreed to.]

All independent research refutes the myths that two men or two women cannot be trusted to raise children or that children will end up confused about their gender or sexuality. On the contrary, evidence shows that gay and lesbian couples have the same parenting qualities as heterosexual couples. They are, in fact, boringly normal and face the same struggles, joys and rewards as any parents. As we debate this important bill, I would like to remind the House of the meaning of voting according to conscience. It means voting according to one's own beliefs and principles as an elected representative of this State, protecting the rights and opportunities of the vulnerable and treating all in our community equally. It means making hard decisions based on the best available evidence, while respecting the differing views, experiences and beliefs of our people. It means voting with head and heart. As a member of this House, as Minister for Community Services and as a representative of the people of Canterbury, I believe it is our responsibility to advocate the best interests of our children and justify our advocacy. I also believe it is our responsibility to advocate the principle of ending discrimination with respect to all those in our community, be it children or adults. That is one of the tenets of our society. Finally, it is equally important that the freedoms and liberties of faith-based religious organisations in the provision of services in accordance with their own values and beliefs are protected.

The bill as proposed has no downside. However, it does provide essential benefits to our children. It will first and foremost put the children of same-sex couples on an equal footing with other children. This bill is an important step forward for the children of New South Wales. It is about their right to grow up with confidence and belief in themselves. It is about their right to stability, their right to be safe, their right to be loved and their right to their own identity. It is about their right to feel as valued by society as does any other child. The best interest of our children overrides everything else and underpins everything in this bill. Sometimes one just has to do the right thing. Sometimes in our endeavours as human beings bravery is required. I call on all members of this House to remember that this bill is about those children who currently do not have the same rights as children raised in heterosexual families, particularly foster children. I want members to keep that in mind. This is a time when we have to do the right thing. In my heart I believe passionately that for the sake of the children of same-sex couples, the right thing to do is to support this bill. We know these children. They have a right to be treated as equally as any other child and currently in this State that is not the case. This bill will right that wrong. I urge all members to support the bill. I commend the bill to the House.

Characteristics of intending parents 1

In researching the debate in the NSW Parliament about whether or not to allow same sex adoption, I came across comments by NSW Liberal MP Greg Smith about a"sensible and practical chapter" of an old  book Understanding Adoption—A Practical Guide. The author  Valerie McLaine apparently  describes some of the characteristics of adoptive parents with whom she has dealt professionally. The comments I thought were also apt for many intending parents accessing surrogacy services.

She states:

      · first the husband and wife are usually very much a couple, their feeling for each other is strong and often very loving. Their marriage has already weathered many crises and can withstand explosive and tumultuous feelings and disappointments. They have a strong commitment to each other.

      · they have the strength to look at issues which are affecting themselves and their children detrimentally and to stick with it often through to a successful recovery, despite what might look like a serious difficulties, highlighted during intensely painful, angry and joyful sessions.

      · they usually take their responsibilities as parents very seriously and the family is a central theme in their lives. In this they can err on the side of expecting a great deal of themselves and of their children. Underlying this can be a constant feeling of having to over-compensate for doubts about being good parents...

    · the parents come for help with some trust of the professional and with some hope that good will come of their efforts to discuss their own difficulties. They are chosen parents, in a sense.

Paediatrician/MP: why same sex adoption should occur

NSW Labor MP and paediatrician Dr Andrew McDonald has highlighted the scientific evidence for same sex adoptions, while at the same time describing Family Court orders as a "second-best option" compared to  adoption orders. His position is different to that of the Queensland Government which justified its discrimination against same sex couples in the Adoption Act 2009 as being in the best interest of children.

Dr McDonald stated:

Parenting orders in the Family Court or Children's Court expire on the child's eighteenth birthday and the child will not be able to inherit anything from the parent after his or her eighteenth birthday. If one parent dies, the child is in a legal vacuum as to guardianship long term. If an 18-year-old child is involved in an accident where there is only a parenting order, the parent will not be able to consent to medical treatment.

Getting a parenting order in the Family Court is expensive and not effective with respect to inheritance and is a second-best option. Parenting orders in the Family Court are never final. Any party may return to the court to seek a variation. This creates a less stable environment for the child.
Dr McDonald stated:

Not one piece of peer review literature says that homosexual parents are inferior to heterosexual parents, and anybody who submits that needs to quote from a piece of peer review literature that says that.
Dr McDonald stated that his duty was clear. He cited the American Academy of Pediatrics statement from 2002 reaffirmed in February this year endorsing same sex adoption:

Children who are born to or adopted by 1 member of a same-sex couple deserve the security of 2 legally recognized parents.
Therefore, the American Academy of Paediatrics supports legislative and legal efforts to provide the possibility of adoption of the child by the second parent or coparent in these families.

Children deserve to know that their relationships with both of their parents are stable and legally recognized.

This applies to all children, whether their parents are of the same sex or opposite sex.

The American Academy of Paediatrics recognizes that a considerable body of professional literature provides evidence that children with parents who are homosexual can have the same advantages and the same expectations for health, adjustment, and development as can children whose parents are heterosexual.

When 2 adults participate in parenting a child, they and the child deserve the serenity that comes with legal recognition.

Children born or adopted into families headed by partners who are of the same sex usually have only 1 biologic or adoptive legal parent. The other partner in a parental role is called the "coparent" or "second parent". Because these families and children need the permanence and security that are provided by having 2 fully sanctioned and legally defined parents, the Academy supports the legal adoption of children by coparents or second parents.

Denying legal parent status through adoption to coparents or second parents prevents these children from enjoying the psychologic and legal security that comes from having 2 willing, capable and loving parents.
On the basis of the acknowledged desirability that children have and maintain a continuing relationship with 2 loving and supportive parents, the Academy recommends that pediatricians do the following:
  • Be familiar with professional literature regarding gay and lesbian parents and their children.
  • Support the right of every child and family to the financial, psychologic, and legal security that results from having legally recognized parents who are committed to each other and to the welfare of their children.
  • Advocate for initiatives that establish permanency through coparent or second-parent adoption for children of same-sex partners through the judicial system, legislation, and community education.
Bligh won't allow same sex adoption in Qld: Brisbane Times

Saturday, 4 September 2010

The case for same sex adoption: Clover Moore

As NSW inches towards allowing same sex adoption, here is the speech in the NSW Parliament by the bill's author, Clover Moore, stating the case for same sex adoption to be allowed:

Adoption law should be about protecting the best interests of a child, first and foremost. But existing adoption law puts discrimination ahead of what is best for children and excludes families headed by same-sex couples. Unlike heterosexual couples, same-sex couples cannot adopt a child together; one parent must adopt as an individual and the other partner has no legal standing as the co-parent, leaving the child in legal limbo. In other words, a child cannot be adopted by his or her parent's same-sex partner yet can be adopted by the parent's heterosexual partner.

The Australian Human Rights Commission 2007 "Same-Sex: Same Entitlement" report points out that excluding same-sex adoptions on the basis of sexuality is a breach of article 21 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that the best interests of a child be the paramount consideration in adoption. Gay men and lesbians are no more or less able to love a child or to carry on stable, long-term relationships than their heterosexual counterparts. The law should support all loving families and protect children's rights.

My Adoption Amendment (Same Sex Couples) Bill will make same-sex couples legally eligible to adopt. It will provide for the introduction of a second-parent adoption provision similar to the existing step-parent adoption provision, and allow same-sex couples to be assessed for adoption as a couple. Importantly, under the bill, adoption laws would treat families headed by same-sex couples in the same way as families headed by heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples in Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory already have these rights. Specifically, the bill changes the definitions for "couple" and "spouse" provided in the Adoption Act from "a man and a woman who are married or who have a de facto relationship" to "persons who are de facto partners, whether they are of the same or opposite sex".

Provisions under this bill reflect the recommendations of the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice in its July 2009 report entitled "Adoption by same-sex couples". In her foreword the committee Chair, the Hon. Christine Robertson, MLC, expressed that it is in children's best interests to make same-sex couples eligible to adopt. In 1997 the New South Wales Law Reform Commission recommended that legislation permit adoption by either a couple, whether married or de facto, heterosexual or same-sex, or by a single person. The then Government accepted the Law Reform Commission recommendations in its Adoption Bill 2000 but excluded same-sex adoption. During debate, I moved amendments that would have included same-sex couples, but all members voted down those changes.

I believe Parliament has moved on from the depressing level of homophobia shown 10 years ago. Since then relationship registers now help protect same-sex couples' rights as partners—as my bill 13 years ago would have done. The State Government now funds the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, in response to my question in Parliament. Both lesbian parents who conceive through donor fertilisation can be listed on the birth certificates of their child, and almost 60 Acts, regulations and by-laws have been amended to remove discrimination against gay men and lesbians. Similar legislation at Commonwealth level has amended nearly 100 laws to remove similar discrimination.

There is a great deal of support in the community for same-sex adoption and removal of discrimination of same-sex couples. The Adoption Amendment (Same Sex Couples) Bill will give members of Parliament the opportunity to support their communities. It is estimated that more than 4,300 children live in same-sex couple families in Australia. In most cases, one parent has come to a relationship with children from a previous relationship. The Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby "Judging on Merit: Community Support for Adoption Equality" report, provides statements of support for same-sex adoption from community members.

Clint is a 30-year-old gay man living in Blacktown with his partner of eight years, Troy, and 10-year-old son, Lachlan. Clint has had custody of Lachlan since birth and their family situation demonstrates the hypocrisy of banning same-sex adoptions and how this leaves children with gay or lesbian parents vulnerable. Clint and his son are financially dependent on Troy and both tax and Centrelink provisions count them as a family, but Troy has no legal rights as one of Lachlan's primary care-givers and Lachlan is vulnerable if his parents separate, or one gets seriously ill or dies. This would not be the case if both parents were of the opposite sex.

My office spoke to Vicki Harding, who has been raising her 14-year-old daughter, Brenna, together with her partner, Jackie Braw, for nine years, and they have been doing that for most of Brenna's life. Jackie is Brenna's parent, she takes her to soccer training and watches matches, and as Brenna says "is there all the time". Brenna recognises Jackie as her mum and Jackie recognises Brenna as her daughter. The three of them are a family. But Brenna and Jackie's relationship has no legal recognition, and I understand Brenna is very angry about this. As Jackie told the Standing Committee on Law and Justice last year, her daughter deserves "to feel secure emotionally, socially, legally and financially". Jackie also raised the important issue of symbolic recognition that goes with legal recognition. I agree that discrimination would be much less likely if our laws recognised the relationships between children and parents in families headed by same-sex couples.

The current provisions present a double standard. Same-sex couples are deemed suitable to foster children, and there is support from foster agencies and the Department of Community Services for this to continue, but these couples are ineligible to provide permanent homes via adoption. Many adoptions in New South Wales involve foster parents adopting their foster children. Barnardos, which finds permanent foster homes for children in distressed circumstances, places children in the care of same-sex couples and facilitates adoptions between foster parents and children regardless of sexuality. The Barnardos submission to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice inquiry points out that the law discriminates against children with two parents of the same sex by giving them less "legal and psychological permanence and security" than children adopted by two people in a heterosexual relationship.

Some adoption agencies do not wish to work with same-sex couples and some will express concern about this bill. Same-sex couples will choose the adoption agencies that have already expressed an interest in working with them to find homes for children in need. In the vast majority of cases, same-sex adoptions will involve known adoptions and step-parenting situations. The reality of adoption in twenty-first century Australia is that there are very few adoptions where the child does not already know and have a relationship with the parent. The stereotypical image of couples adopting babies is not the norm, and legislation should recognise the current situation where most adoptions are known. I stress that providing eligibility to adopt is only a first step. Like heterosexual couples, same-sex couples applying to adopt will need to undergo a rigorous assessment about their suitability to adopt by an accredited adoption agency, and will then have to satisfy the courts that the adoption is in the best interests of the child.

There is no evidence to suggest that a person's sexual orientation has any bearing on their suitability to be an adoptive parent, therefore there is no reason to legislate to exclude someone from being able to adopt on the grounds of their homosexual orientation or family arrangements. In its report the Standing Committee on Law and Justice concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that same-sex couples should not be parents and that up-to-date social science research suggests that "same-sex parenting is as likely to result in positive developmental outcomes for children as opposite-sex parenting". It concluded that research shows children benefit from "positive relationships, and the provision of a supportive, nurturing and loving environment" regardless of their parents' sexuality. We are talking about a small number of potential adoptive parents.

The Standing Committee on Law and Justice report identified that from July 2007 to June 2008 there were 125 adoptions in New South Wales, 73 of which were intercountry adoptions, 15 were unknown and 37 known. Of the 37 known adoptions, 22 were foster parents, 10 were step-parents, three were other relatives and two were special cases. The most important criterion is whether the applicants can meet the child's needs and can provide the child with the support of a permanent and nurturing environment. The focus must be on the needs of the child and the selection of a family that is best able to meet those needs, regardless of its composition. Parliament should put the best interests of a child ahead of discrimination based on fear and prejudice. This bill is necessary to make adoption law consistent with aims of this Parliament to remove discrimination. I call upon the House to support this important bill.