Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Viva Las Vegas! Going to the US to talk about surrogacy, and getting hitched in Vegas

Tomorrow I travel to the US. It is a whirlwind trip of just over a week.

First stop:  San Francisco

On Friday I am part of a panel presenting a continuing legal education session for the Bar Association of San Francisco about surrogacy. I will be talking about international surrogacy. The other presenters are noted local attorney Deborah Wald (who will present about local surrogacy issues) , local fertility doctor Dr Isabelle Ryan, and local fertility counsellor Peggy Orlin. The chair of the session is Dennis Hanshew from San Francisco. It should be a great session!

Second stop: Chicago

Straight after San Francisco I will be in Chicago for several days attending the assisted reproductive treatment law conference of the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Treatment Attorneys or AAARTA. I am  the first international Fellow of AAARTA outside the US or Canada. This will be the first AAARTA conference that I have attended and will present at since I presented at the AAARTA ART conference in Charleston in 2013.

I will be part of a panel that is talking about international issues, along with Louisa Ghavaert from England and Mandy Pecher from Germany. The chair of the session is Margaret Swain. I will be talking about an overview of surrogacy in Australia, especially how it has changed since Baby Gammy.

Last stop: Getting married in Vegas

After Chicago, the intention was to visit  my friends, Dr Bruce Shapiro and Dr Said Daneshmand at the Fertility Center of Las Vegas on the way home. And then a couple of weeks ago, things changed.

My fiance Mitchell and I were waiting to see what happened in Canberra before we got married. We were planning to go to NZ to get married, if the politicians failed to enact equal marriage laws. Well  they did fail. We then had a choice- wait for it, or have our trip to NZ.

We had thought of getting married in the US. Some months ago a colleague Dianne Hinson, a surrogacy lawyer form Maryland, suggested that we get married in the US. This was an idea that we were toying with, but rejected.

And then a couple of weeks ago, Mitch said to me: " Darling, why don't we get married in Vegas? We are going to be there anyway." So we are getting married in Vegas. And for everyone who asks- no it won't be Elvis officiating!

I am delighted that my good friend Dr Daneshmand will be my best man and that Shiva from the Fertility Center of Las Vegas will be the maid of honour. 

We are blessed that at short notice some of our American friends are able to attend the wedding. 

And then comes the bittersweet moment: we come home- to have our marriage not recognised here.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

A failure to screen for same sex domestic violence

Next week my fiancé Mitchell and I travel to the US.  I’ll be speaking at conferences, but more importantly on 8 October we are getting married in Vegas.

Yesterday I came up with the bright idea to buy him flowers, being the last time before our wedding.  Last night when he was opening the wrapping, for some reason he used a knife and not scissors and managed to stab himself in the hand.  Blood poured out.

We ended up at the local hospital, a big teaching hospital in Brisbane and particularly, a hospital that has been the centre of research about domestic violence in accident and emergency wards.  Research undertaken at that hospital some years ago demonstrated that there was inadequate screening for domestic violence, that domestic violence towards women was prevalent in emergency presentations, and there needed to be protocols in place to ensure that domestic violence was screened for consistently.

Despite all the blood, luckily there was no major damage.

What shocked me on reflection this morning, however, was that despite being interviewed by two nurses, a clerk and a doctor; and nursing what could quite easily have been an injury from domestic violence, neither Mitch nor I were interviewed about the possibility of there having been domestic violence.  It simply wasn’t asked. No domestic violence screening was undertaken at all.

I don’t know whether this would be reflective if the couple were a man and a woman.  Hopefully there would be screening for domestic violence, but what it does say to me is that there is clearly inadequate screening for same sex domestic violence amongst emergency presentations at that hospital and that despite there having been laws in Queensland since 2003 protecting against same sex domestic violence, clearly much more needs to be done.

While we had an accident, a similar injury might have been deliberate.  It should have been screened for and if detected, support offered to the victim and if necessary reported to appropriate authorities and community agencies for help.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Queensland: a welcome step back to the future on civil partnerships

The Palaszczuk Government in Queensland has gone back to the future with civil partnerships, but in the process made an advance towards equality.

In the dying days of the Bligh Government, the Civil Partnerships Act was passed, which recognised for the first time civil unions in Queensland, called civil partnerships, which involved a cooling off period and a public ceremony.  Civil partnerships were open to both opposite sex and same sex couples.

Following the election of the Newman Government, the Australian Christian Lobby lobbied hard to rid Queensland of civil partnerships.  The Newman Government declined to do that, but instead said it took a ‘balanced’ approach to the issue, by renaming them ‘registered relationships’ and getting rid of the public ceremony.  The recognition of these relationships now came down to the execution of a form.

 Many were upset at this rewinding of rights.  Labor promised as part of its electoral platform to reinstate civil partnerships.  It has come good with its promise, the bill being tabled before the Queensland Parliament last week.

The bill takes us back to the 2011 version, which is to allow public ceremonies, so that couples can show their love to each other in front of friends and family and have a faith based ceremony if their religion allows that.

This is a welcome step.

There has been some suggestion that the bill does not allow the recognition of relationships that are interstate or overseas.  On careful checking, the 2012 amendments by the Newman Government did not alter the 2011 bill on this point in substance.  The recognition of interstate and overseas civil unions is contained separately under regulations.  If there is a deficiency with the places that ought to be named, that is something that could be easily fixed by the Government, not parliament.

I understand that the bill will be available for submissions through the parliamentary committee process.  This is a marked change to the 2012 amendments which were rushed through by the Newman Government without the scrutiny of the parliamentary committee process.

The consultative process adopted by the Palaszczuk Government on this bill is also welcome.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Media callout for LGBTI refugees

I have been contacted by a journalist who is seeking to do a story on the experience of LGBTI refugees- and how they are dealt with by Australian authorities, including the Department of Immigration, tribunals and courts.

While the journalist would, of course, prefer any interviewees have their names published, he is happy to protect names and identities for those who want to tell their stories, but want to make sure they stay safe.

In some countries, being LGBTI can result in persecution or even death, as the New York Times highlighted.

If you are interested, please call me on 07 3221 9544 or by email spage@harringtonfamilylawyers.com or send me a message either via Facebook or via Twitter .

Brisbane Pride Rally and March

Yesterday was one of those amazing days that when you wake up in the morning, you pinch yourself and hope that all of the promises of the day are met, or even hopefully, exceeded.

All my hopes yesterday were met and exceeded.

It was deeply humbling and an honour to be able to address the rally, and along with the other speakers to be able to lead the parade.

The crowd cheered when I told them that my fiance Mitchell and I are to marry in October in Las Vegas.

In beautiful weather, thousands turned out for the largest Pride rally and march ever. It was truly a credit to Pride chair Peter Black and his committee. 

What was especially significant was who joined the march.

On the 25th anniversary of Pride marches, for the first time Queensland Police joined in in uniform, as did officers of Queensland Fire and Rescue and staff from Aurizon.

It was extraordinary to stand up before the crowd along with Police Commissioner Ian Stewart.  He told me that the Queensland Police Service reflected the community from which it came, so it was fair enough that proud officers were allowed to march in uniform.

Another speaker (and subsequent winner of Ms Pride) was the amazing Roz Dickson, who told the rally about the need for inclusion.

Many politicians came to support.

They included:

  • Deputy Premier Jackie Trad (ALP), who recited the achievements of previous Queensland Labor governments, and told the crowd that Labor had put a bill before the House to allow civil unions again.
  • Lord Mayor Graham Quirk (LNP), who said that his vision for Brisbane was an inclusive Brisbane, reflecting its remarkable diversity
  • Teresa Gambaro (Lib) and Terri Butler (ALP), two of the sponsors of the cross-party equal marriage bill 
  • Senator Claire Moore (ALP)
  • Grace Grace (ALP)
  • Councillor Vicki Howard (LNP)
  • Mayoral candidates Rod Harding (ALP) and Ben Pennings (Greens)
Here is the speech I delivered:

On this spot, guided by Captain Christmas, in 1849, in the land of the Turrbal people, a new band of people arrived. Not allowed to live over there, scorned by the Government under Captain Wickham, these migrants chose to set up camp here in this dale and chose to call it Fortitude Valley, after their vessel the SS Fortitude, which safely guided them across the world’s oceans to their new home.

These migrants knew the lessons of abandonment by government. They knew also of community and togetherness, of caring for each other and of striving for liberty, with enthusiasm, with determination, with courage and with fortitude.

They had a splendid sense of optimism, a keen sense of duty, and a high sense of citizenship. They did not give up. They endured. They thrived.

These lessons from history endure today.

In our community, abandoned at times by government, it is necessary for us, all of us, to stand up and be counted, with that splendid sense of optimism, that keen sense of duty and that high sense of citizenship to help other members of our community, to volunteer, and to agitate for change, for fairness, for equality.

Change, fairness and equality are for each one of us and for all of us.

Having equal rights is not having special rights, just having the same rights as everyone else.

Our relationships, our families, our community ought to be given the same recognition by society and by law as everyone else’s. Failure to do so is a failure to recognise equality in society, equality under law.

It is with great pride and honour to stand here before you behind Gilbert Baker’s creation recognizing our community, the magnificent rainbow flag with all its shades of colour. This flag represents our love of freedom, our diversity, our unity and our community.

Let us march today, proud of who we are as individuals, and proud of our community.

Dykes on Bikes, start your engines!

I address the crowd

Leading the Pride parade (l) to (r): my fiance Mitch, me, Councillor Vicki Howard, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, Pride chair Peter Black, Teresa Gambaro MP, Terri Butler MP, the Hon. Jackie Trad, Grace Grace MP and Rod Harding

Nothing like a selfie!

With the other speakers

Thursday, 10 September 2015

A heartwarming surrogacy story on 60 Minutes this Sunday night

I learnt the news a couple of days ago that clients of mine will feature on 60 Minutes on Sunday night.

The story will be about Claudia and Sonny Luca who were unable to have a baby, until Claudia's mum, Antonietta came along and said that she would be the surrogate. Claudia, Sonny, Antonietta and Claudia's dad Joe all feature as does the beautiful bouncing son and grandson Luciano.

It's not the first mother/daughter surrogacy I've helped along the way, and I'm sure it won't be the last, but it is a very touching and heartwarming story, with tears along the way, until joy!

It has been a privilege, as always, to help Claudia and Sonny achieve their dream to become parents and have a family.

Ironically, I will miss the story (aat least live) because when it is being broadcast I will be travelling back to Brisbane from Perth, after speaking about surrogacy to the Family Law Practitioners Association of Western Australia.

What an amazing month for a surrogacy lawyer

I have sat back and reflected about the next month, which is an extraordinary period for presentations by me. As always, I am honoured to be asked to present. Hopefully I am able to add value to each event.

Number 1: Western Australia

Tonight I fly to Perth. Tomorrow I drive to Dunsborough, a couple of hours south of Perth, where on Saturday morning I take part in a panel discussion about surrogacy for the Family Law Practitioners Association of Western Australia annual conference.

Dunsborough is about as far away as anyone could get in Australia from Brisbane. A 5 1/4  hour flight tonight, followed by a three hour drive tomorrow. I will be going from the northeast of Australia to the far south west.

To put this into context, New Caledonia is closer (2 hours), as is Vanuatu (the same), Fiji (3 hours) and New Zealand (3 1/2 hours). The time to get to Dunsborough is less time than to Singapore (7 hours) and similar to Hong Kong (9 hours). The flight time from Los Angeles to New York, by comparison, is 4 3/4 hours.

I am in esteemed company in my panel. The other panellists are Chief Justice Diana Bryant of the Family Court of Australia and Justice Jane Crisford of the Family Court of Western Australia. The panel is moderated by WA barrister and fellow surrogacy lawyer Rachel Oakeley.

Yesterday came the bittersweet news from conference organisors- stop asking for availability, because the conference is full. Hopefully there will be a good turn up. 
The irony about the trip to me is obvious. Gay men in Western Australia cannot access surrogacy there. They have to go interstate, or more likely overseas, to become dads.
That's the Surrogacy Act 2008 (WA) specifically discriminates about who can and cannot be a parent. Heterosexual and lesbian couples make the grade, apparently, as do single women, but single men and gay couples do not. This discriminatory and anachronisitc provision should go, as called for by Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, so that the law does not discriminate about who can or cannot be a parent.

I fly back from that conference on Sunday, arriving late on Sunday night. In the process I will miss 60 Minutes on Sunday, when clients of mine are featuring.

Number 2: Canberra

On Monday night I fly to Canberra, where on Tuesday I will address a session of the annual conference of the Fertility Society of Australia. I will be speaking about post-Baby Gammy regulation of surrogacy.

I fly back to Brisbane on Tuesday night. The conference goes for three days, but unfortunately I can only be there for the day.

I have been honoured to speak at the conference, or side conference in 2011 (Melbourne) , 2013 (Sydney), 2014 (Brisbane)  and now 2015. 

Number 3: Back in Brisbane

On Wednesday night after work I am again volunteering at the LGBTI Legal Service in Brisbane. OK, it's not a presentation, but I thought it worthwhile to mention.

I volunteer my time once a month to give legal advice to others. Recently I was presented with the Rainbow Keys award by the LGBTI Legal Service for volunteering there for 5 years. I have volunteered there since opening night in 2010. Where did that time go?

The service is an unfunded legal  service filling a vital niche. I figured it needs all the help it can get. The least I can do is to lend it some of my time, and help others.

Number 4: Queensland webinar

On Thursday, today week, I present a webinar to the Queensland Family Law Pathways Network about ART and family law. I explore surrogacy law and who is a parent at law. I understand, being a webinar, that there are still places available.

I was a bit embarrassed when the Queensland Family Law Pathways Network in its promotional blurb called me "internationally renowned". While that is true, it is not something I would have written about myself.

I was asked yesterday to present at a Queer Careers night that night at the University of Queensland. Much as I would have liked to attend and speak, it just simply would have been too much, in light of everything else.

Number 5: San Francisco

On 2 October I am presenting  at a legal seminar about surrogacy for  the San Francisco Bar Association. I will be co-presenting with local surrogacy guru Deb Wald. Deb will be speaking about local surrogacy laws. I will be talking about the international context of surrogacy. There will be two others presenters- a local IVF doctor and a local fertility counsellor. Hopefully it will be a good rollup.

Number 6: Chicago

On 4 to 6 October I will be attending the ART conference of the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Treatment Attorneys in Chicago. I am the first international Fellow of AAARTA, having joined last year. I will be presenting on 6 October, about surrogacy regulation in Australia.

I last addressed an ART conference of AAARTA back in 2013, in Charleston. It was an amazing and impressive event, with surrogacy lawyers from all over the US and across the globe, including from Europe and South America. Hopefully Chicago will be as impressive.

While in Chicago, I expect to be meeting local IVF doctors and fertility specialists.

Number 7: Las Vegas

After Chicago, on the homeward leg, I will be stopping off at Las Vegas and a flying visit to see Drs Bruce Shapiro and Said Daneshmand at the Fertility Center of Las Vegas, a renowned IVF clinic. Yes, it's not a presentation, but I could not resist the opportunity to pop in.

Number 8: Sydney

After a week in Brisbane, finally back at work, it's off to Sydney for a day trip for Television Education Network. This is to produce a webinar from a TV studio (that's a new one for me) to Australian lawyers about who is a parent under Australian law. What might be seen as an obvious answer has become, courtesy of ART and IVF, and the slow catch up of the law, quite complex at times.

And then, finally, the pace will hopefully slow down!

No one yet knows when or if surrogacy will restart in Nepal

Two weeks ago, the Nepal Supreme Court ordered that commercial surrogacy there stop.The order is made until the conclusion of the case, where according to reports, a lawyer has claimed that surrogacy involves exploitation of the surrogate and the child.

It is not known when or if surrogacy will restart in Nepal.

Currently 11 Australian babies have been born in Nepal, and left, and about another 60 surrogacies involving Australian intended parents are under way. It is not known how or if those babies will be allowed to leave Nepal.

It turns out that Nepal has no legal framework for surrogacy at all. Part of the criticism in the case is that the basis for surrogacy in Nepal is a cabinet decision last year to allow surrogacy, provided that the surrogate is not from Nepal. In other words, the Nepalese Government did not ensure that laws were passed to allow surrogacy, just an agreement in principle, that fertility tourism was a great idea, as long as it did not involve Nepalese women, which necessarily means that the surrogates come from India.

A further criticism in the case is that birth certificates are not issued by the appropriate authorities, but by the hospitals concerned, and that children leaving Nepal are doing so in breach of the 1961 Hague Convention on the Protection of Infants. Australia is not a signatory to that Convention. Neither is Nepal.

It is yet another example of unclear processes and lack of clarity in a developing country (as seen previously in India in 2012 and Thailand last year) that has led to rules being changed, or indeed rules suddenly being written or created, which changes the game for those unfortunate enough to have gone there.

It is yet another example why compensated surrogacy should be allowed to occur in Australia- to reduce demand for overseas surrogacy arrangements in developing countries. Australians would much rather go to their local IVF clinic and undertake surrogacy here than go somewhere else, given the choice.