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.


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