The next session of the Senate starts next week. Before each session the government sends around a list of all the legislation they intend to introduce in that session, as well as those they hope to actually bring on for debate and passage.
The latest list came through yesterday. As I scanned the list of Bills planned for introduction, one in particular caught my eye. It is called the Family Law (Same Sex Adoption) Bill. The brief explanation for the Bill’s purpose is “to amend the Family Law Act 1975 to indicate that adoptions by same sex couples of children from overseas under either bilateral or multilateral arrangements will not be recognised in Australia.”
This sounds like a modified version of what was initially put forward back in 2004, which also just happened to be in the lead up to an election. It was originally included as part of the legislation which also sought to ban marriage of same sex partners. After playing wedge politics with it all year, the government took out the part banning adoption when Labor said they wouldn’t support it, and just pressed ahead with the anti-marriage part of the legislation, which was passed through the Senate with the support of both major parties in August 2004 – something I found quite distressing.
As we start on this election year, the proposal aimed at preventing recognition of adoptions by same sex couples has reappeared. In 2004 Mark Latham publicly supported what is called ‘known child adoption’, where a child who may already be the legal child of one of the partners and is legally adopted by the other. Whether Kevin Rudd will do the same – particularly given his overt pitch for a segment of the Christian vote – is not clear at the moment. The government is likely to just let the legislation sit there through the year, looking for occasional opportunities to make mileage out of it and wedge Labor on the issue. Still it may be a good chance for Rudd to emphasise one of the points he’s been making about christian values in politics, which is that it should be focused on justice and compassion, not obsessed with so-called sexual morality. It will be interesting, and possibly quite significant, to see how he addresses the issue.
It is worth noting that ‘known child adoption’ by same sex couples is already legal in Tasmania, Western Australia and the ACT. I am not sure if the legislation would affect those children in a legal sense. However, it will certainly affect those who have adopted children in other countries that allow the same thing. The effect there seems clear – “as soon as the family walks through Australian customs, the child will cease to have two legal parents, and one of the parents will cease to have any legal rights or responsibilities for their child.” A great selling point for our country – ‘come to Australia and have your family torn apart the moment you arrive!‘ I suppose it might make some people pleased if we created another disincentive for gay and lesbian people to come to Australia.
Ironically, one of the few positive things the Coalition government has done in this area in the last decade has been to recognise a spouse of a same sex couple when they are migrating here – but only under the skilled visa category. Don’t ask me to explain the logic of how a same sex couple can be recognised under a skilled visa, but not for a spouse visa. Obviously, the pragmatic reason was because our major skill shortage means we are desperately trying to attract skilled migrants, and amazingly enough, some skilled people are gay and found it rather a disincentive to apply for a visa if they couldn’t bring their partner with them. If this measure regarding adoption goes through, we may well be saying we recognise their partner, but not their child!
I found it offensive when a law was passed in 2004 saying to one group in the community that their relationships were less meaningful and valid than the rest of us just because they happened to be in love with someone from the same gender. But to use children and their relationship with their adopted parents as political pawns in an election year is setting a new low. After all, it won’t even prevent an adoption, it will just leave children who have been adopted with reduced legal and social recognition and protection, and a less stable family environment.
For anyone interested in greater detail on the issue, the history of the government’s approach on the issue and other background, I recommend reading this post on Rodney Croome’s blog, which has a wealth of information.
It is probably no coincidence that this measure is re-appearing just as the United Kingdom is moving to prohibit discriminating against same sex couples in the area of adoption. This article describes the recent decision of the UK Cabinet. At the very end, it notes that the Leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, also supports the measure. I would be almost certain the other main UK party, the Liberal Democrats, do as well. Rather a stark contrast to Australia, I must say.
ELSEWHERE: Tim Dunlop writes on this issue at Blogocracy. I also found the comments on his post worth reading as an insight into some of the views and arguments people are publicly expressing on the topic (as I do with the comments on my own site of course).
UPDATE & (POSSIBLE) CORRECTION: The Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, has clarified and corrected the interpretation I have taken about the proposed legislation, saying that adoptions of foreign children by same-sex couples will still be recognised in Australia. Instead, he says the government is ‘just’ trying to confirm that those agreements with other countries which allow children to be adopted into Australia will not allow such adoption with same sex couples. That’s still discriminatory and offensive as far as I’m concerned, but it will cause less direct suffering to children (and their parents) than what I originally feared. Rodney Croome again has further details – although I’d agree with him in saying that it would be best to wait until the legislation actually appears before we take the government at their word, given their past record in this and other areas.