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The Sunday Times – "Gay adoption splits opinion" by Giz Watson & John Barich

September 17, 2005 Leave a comment

State MP Giz Watson and John Barich, national vice-president of the Australian Family Association, put their cases on the issue of allowing gay couples to adopt

GIZ WATSON, the case for . . .

TWO men have exercised their rights under WA law to be considered as prospective parents of a child who needs a new family, a child who has been relinquished for adoption.
Their chances of becoming parents in this way are slight. There are already more than 100 other couples on the waiting list; in 2003/04 only three children born in WA were placed in so-called “stranger adoption”.

Other countries offering children for adoption prevent children from going to same-sex couples; and the relinquishing mother can (quite rightly) limit or proscribe who the child goes to (for example, she can say they have to be Catholics or Caucasian).

Under WA law, in the case of stranger adoption, the interest of the child always comes first and the decisions of the relinquishing parent and the adoption service are final. Neither a heterosexual nor gay couple discriminated against for good reason in this process can appeal. These decisions cannot be appealed under the Equal Opportunity Act.

So why all the excitement? What exactly is behind this debate?

Are lesbian and gay parents less capable? The scientific evidence is to the contrary and more than 50 scientific studies have shown this.

The Australian Psychological Society, representing more than 15,000 psychologists, says that gays and lesbians parent no differently from heterosexuals.

Jenny Milbank, of Sydney University, reviewed the last 30 years of research on lesbian and gay families. She concluded that it was family processes, not family structures, that determined children’s welfare. Parenting skills and the management of stress and conflict determined dysfunction in children, and these were completely unrelated to gender or family structure.

Are children in gay families in any danger? Statistics from Australia and other countries show that children are more likely to suffer neglect or abuse in heterosexual families.

The facts are that more than 90 per cent of the perpetrators of child abuse are men who identify as heterosexual – overwhelmingly their victims are female, the majority are related or known to their victim, and most offences occur inside the hallowed family home. Of course, the vast majority of heterosexual families provide safe and loving homes for children, and gay families do so equally.

Will children in gay families be teased or bullied at school? Children may be teased for having big ears or a bald father, or for being thin.

Parents and schools are fully aware of bullying issues and employ intelligent approaches to conflict resolution. Teasing is a behaviour-management issue, not a “gay-parent” issue.

One of the key tools to address teasing is promoting understanding and tolerance.

So is it really a “rights of the child” issue that excites all the fuss? Opponents of gay adoption remain adamant that a gay-family structure is damaging – but to whom? Why does the institution of the heterosexual family require such vehement defence?

Is it really true that a child’s best interests are necessarily served by having a mother and a father? An optimal home environment for a child provides both nurturing and resourcing. These roles are not gender specific.

So, finally, what arguments are left other than a bald, unsubstantiated assertion that heterosexual families are simply best for children? Is the “threat” of gay adoption not really about the “best interests of the child”, but rather its perceived challenge to a narrow, imagined notion of an ideal family?

Since time immemorial the true, rather than imagined, reality is that children have been raised in a variety of settings. One person or many may provide the nurturing and resourcing roles: family members, friends and teachers all contribute. Opponents of gay adoption would do well to take a longer and wider view of child-raising in the world, and, frankly, get over it.

JOHN BARICH, the case against . . .

THE 1994 Adoption Act declares that the “paramount considerations to be taken into account in the administration” of that Act are “the welfare and best interests of a child who is an adoptee or a prospective adoptee; the principle that adoption is a service for a child who is an adoptee or a prospective adoptee; and the adoption of a child should occur only in circumstances where there is no other appropriate alternative for the child”.

Nothing in these considerations refers to any alleged “right” of couples, of any kind, to adopt.

Therefore, the question of whether a homosexual couple should be treated equally to a married couple does not arise, except in the context of asking what is in the best interest of the child.

The onus is on those advocating adoption by homosexual couples to establish that the best interest of a child can ever be served by intentionally depriving the child of a father or a mother.

This is the necessary consequence of placing a child for adoption with a male homosexual couple or a lesbian couple.

Advocates of adoption by homosexual couples frequently claim about 50 studies have shown no difference in outcome between children raised by married or homosexual couples.

Any social-science study depends for its validity on following rigorous statistical and research procedures.

Dr Robert Lerner and Dr Althea Nagai – experts in quantitative analysis – after dissecting each of 49 of such studies, found at least one fatal research flaw in each.

These studies are therefore no basis for good science or public policy.

On the other hand, there is a large and reliable body of evidence that there are gender-linked differences in parenting skills.

Men and women add different strengths to their children’s development.

Fathers and mothers interact differently with their infant children.

Fathers tend to play with their children more physically, while mothers smile and talk more to them.

Fathers tend to encourage curiosity and problem solving and are less solicitous about failure.

Mothers provide more expressive and nurturing child-rearing.

What a perverse idea of fairness is it to decide that a little boy or girl shall never be able to call anyone “Mummy” because the next couple in the adoption queue is a pair of male homosexuals?

Adoption creates a legal, lifelong bond between a child and the new parents.

It provides a vital service to those children whose natural parents freely decide that they are unable or unwilling to care for and raise them.

The state has a grave obligation to ensure that it acts only in the best interests of these children and ignores the self-serving interests of any adults demanding a “right to adopt”.

Millennia of human experience, common sense and weighty research support the presumption that the best interest of the child is served by entrusting him or her to a mother and father in a stable marriage.

The advocates of adoption by homosexual couples cannot meet the burden of proof required to rebut this presumption.

The Australian Family Association welcomes the commitment of the Liberal Party to repeal the unjust provision of the Act that permits adoption by homosexual couples.

This provision was introduced by the Gallop Government – not after any comprehensive review of the needs of children, but on demands for equality from a small, influential group of adults.

We urge the Gallop Government to likewise consider repealing this provision.

[Link: Original Article]

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Categories: Adoption, gay

Sydney Star Observer – "Teething Problems" by Myles Wearring

September 15, 2005 Leave a comment

MANY LESBIANS AND GAY MEN ENTER PARENTHOOD WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING THE POSSIBLE LEGAL HURDLES AHEAD.

Would-be lesbian mums and potential gay dads have a new resource to check out when considering the potential legal minefield of same-sex parenting.

The new Talking Turkey website was created by the Inner City Legal Centre in Darlinghurst to answer some of the questions regularly asked by prospective parents.

In NSW only the biological mother has any automatic legal rights. In the case of lesbian couples with kids, the non-biological mother has no legal standing. Nor does the man who donated sperm, often a friend or acquaintance of the mother. So when lesbian parents break up, or the mothers have a falling out with the sperm donor, there’s not much the non-biological parent can do.

This is the predicament one Sydney lesbian couple now find themselves in. The women had a child through donor insemination, broke up and are currently fighting for custody of their three-year-old boy in the Family Court. The biological mother wants the child to live with her and give the non-biological mother contact once a fortnight. At present the two women (who cannot be named) share equal custody of the child, and the non-biological mother wants to keep it this way.

The Family Court verdict is eagerly anticipated, as it will set a precedent for what is expected to become a more common issue. As more and more same-sex couples start having babies, the more potential there is for complicated custody battles in the future.

The problem is, a lot of lesbian couples and their sperm donors who enter into “informal agreements” – effectively starting a family on their own by their own rules – don’t anticipate the kinds of things that can go wrong.

The lawyer for the non-biological mother in the current case, Nici Clayhills, said this was a common issue for gay and lesbian parents.

“And it’s because there aren’t the facilities, the advice, the institutional set-up to say ‘this is how it should be done’,” Clayhills told Sydney Star Observer.

“Most people don’t think about seeing a lawyer about having a kid. A lot of people learn the hard way.”

Jenni Millbank, associate professor of law at Sydney University, agreed prospective lesbian mums and their sperm donors often didn’t think about the legal problems they could face in the future.

“People are going into agreements often with people they don’t know that well,” Millbank said.

“Not often with complete strangers, but often with people who are not much more than casual acquaintances.”

The trouble is, Millbank said, gay men and lesbians often did not have many options when it came to starting a family. Gay men were generally excluded from adoption and often needed a lesbian friend or couple to have children with. And many lesbians were barred from fertility services or preferred to not use unknown donors, so this type of informal agreement was their only hope.

The lesbians and gay men who got into these arrangements were often so excited at the prospect of impending parenthood they overlooked the conflicting desires of the other parties, Millbank said. For instance, the mothers might have said they wanted the father to have contact with the child once a month but the father might have thought they’d agreed upon access once a week.

“For that reason I would say that everyone going through an informal agreement to have a baby should be writing down what their hopes and expectations are,” Millbank said.

“Most of that won’t be legally binding but it’s a really important process to go through to make sure everyone understands what their respective positions are and pulls out if they’re not in agreement.”

Whatever arrangements were made before conception, people’s views and perspectives could change after the birth, Millbank said.

“But at least if you start off from a clear platform at least you have some hope. If you’ve all got cross-purposes to start with it’s a disaster. What if the mums want to move away? Who gets to decide what the baby’s name is? What if someone decides they want to send the children to a Catholic school? It’s really important people are clear from the outset.”

The Talking Turkey site (www.iclc.org.au/talking_turkey/) has draft documents available for people to download, to help biological and non-biological parents establish formal boundaries and rules.

Parents could also seek consent orders from the Family Court after the birth.

“That’s an increasingly common mechanism that’s used,” Millbank said.

“A mother and co-mother can go before the court and ask for orders that they have shared parental responsibility. Those orders can also include a donor dad or involved man, so they can provide for him to have contact or some form of parental responsibility.”

If a man has had extensive contact with a child the court was unlikely to change that, Millbank said.

Thankfully for non-biological parents, it looks like the laws in NSW may be about to change. The NSW Attorney General’s department is currently consulting with the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby to reform the Status of Children Act. The reforms would give non-biological parents legal parenting rights.

Lobby co-convenor Julie McConnell believed a draft of the new law will be going before cabinet in the next fortnight. “We’re looking forward to that being a reality,” she said.

But no matter how many possible problems parents took into consideration, Millbank said at some point the child would get to have a say as well.

“You can plan all you want but it can always turn out differently,” she said.

[Link: Original Article]

The Sunday Times – "GAY COUPLE TO ADOPT: Two WA men approved as parents" by Trevor Paddenburg

September 10, 2005 Leave a comment

A GAY couple have been approved to adopt a child – a WA first under liberalised laws that came into force in 2002.
The application, by a male couple, has been approved by the Department for Community Development.

The historic laws allow same-sex couples to adopt children if they can convince authorities they would make suitable parents – the same criteria for heterosexual couples.

The gay partners are among 118 WA couples approved to adopt a child, most of whom will wait an average of two years.

But the two men may never become fathers because a child’s birth mother also has to approve the foster parents.

Opposition Leader Matt Birney slammed the department’s decision, saying it was disappointing, disturbing and against a child’s best interests.

He said the debate about same-sex parents had been “hijacked” by a focus on the rights of gay parents rather than the rights of children.

“I can’t support it. I find it very disappointing and I think most people out there would find this quite disturbing,” he said.

Mr Birney said every child deserved to grow up with the influence of a mother and a father.

“Out in the real world, you don’t always have that opportunity, but in this case the Government can provide that opportunity,” he said.

“Instead, they are imposing their own political ideology on the system and denying a child the best start in life he or she could have.”

Australian Family Association WA branch president John Barich described the liberal laws as obscene, anti-social and against the community’s wishes.

But Greens MP Giz Watson, a lesbian whose partner of 16 years has three children, said critics of gay adoption were old-fashioned and ill-informed.

She said it was good news the gay couple had taken advantage of the changed laws because sex and sexuality had no bearing on being a good parent.

“There are many examples of same-sex couples raising children in a healthy, loving and stable home environment,” she said.

“The main thing to recognise is that a stable, loving couple provide the best environment for children, and gay couples are just as capable as heterosexual couples of providing that.”

Despite adoption approval here, the gay couple cannot adopt a foreign child because no other country accepts applications from same-sex couples.

In WA, relinquishing mothers have to give their tick of approval to potential foster parents.

Department for Community Development acting adoptions manager Bob Sprenkels said it meant the gay couple could be “chosen at any time or may never be chosen”.

Ms Watson agreed that relinquishing parents should have the final say on who could adopt their child.

But gay couples should be considered on the same terms as heterosexual couples, she said.

[Link: Original Article]

Categories: Adoption, gay

Sydney Star Observer – "Gay dads have their day" by Ian Gould

September 1, 2005 Leave a comment

THEY MAY REMAIN IN THE MINORITY, BUT OPENLY GAY DADS WILL CELEBRATE DIVERSE PARENTING MODELS THIS FATHER’S DAY

For Gary Hampton, coming out 20 years ago meant announcing himself as part of a group stereotypically seen as childless hedonists. But the then 17-year-old was not about to abandon a long-held dream.

“I always knew that I could be a father and when I came out as gay I didn’t discount that option,” Hampton said.

Twenty years on, Hampton has witnessed his ambition come to life. On Sunday he and his partner Andrew will celebrate Father’s Day as dads to their three-year-old son Oliver.

The Sydney couple will join other men who, though part of a firm minority, are issuing a challenge to convention by parenting as openly gay men.

Determining how many gay men in Australia have children, and ascertaining the nature of their parenting arrangements, is a tricky business. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ most recent population and housing census, five percent of an identified 11,000 gay male couples in Australia had children, compared with about 20 percent of lesbian partners.

But the 2001 information made no distinction between offspring from previous heterosexual relationships and those from other parenting arrangements. Nor did it take into account single gay dads.

University of Sydney law academic Jenni Millbank, who has written major parenting reports for the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said in her experience most gay men who were parents tended to have had their children with a former female partner.

In LGBT community consultations Millbank observed that when openly gay men formed families in partnership with another woman or couple, it was commonly “a friendly, avuncular relationship with the kids, ranging from casual to regular contact.”

Gary Hampton and his partner wanted more than that when they decided to become dads about five years ago.

After dismissing an international surrogacy arrangement as “unattractive and difficult-looking”, and with adoption in NSW out of reach for same-sex couples, the pair were introduced through a mutual friend to a lesbian couple who also hoped to become parents.

Hampton agreed to donate sperm, and after about six months one of the lesbian partners became pregnant.

Under a parenting model downloaded from the Internet – “a co-parenting arrangement for lesbian and gay parents … that spells out everything, areas of responsibility and that sort of thing” – the four parents-to-be agreed their child would live in each couple’s household half the time, after spending his first six months with his mothers.

It’s an arrangement that works well, according to Hampton, despite early insecurities and continuing scepticism from some. In contrast to his parents’ initial agreement, Oliver was about eight months old before he spent his first night with his dads, and almost two when he began living with his fathers 50 percent of the time.

“That was difficult for everyone involved because all of us were a bit insecure about our positions,” Hampton admitted. “I think there is a sort of culture among the gay male ‘donor dad’ people that shared parenting is too hard and doesn’t work. But for us it really does work.”

Oliver’s four parents have family planning meetings every two to three weeks, and communication between the mums and dads helps ward off possible parenting rivalry.

“Certainly we could go down that track of competitiveness … but they are general fears that everybody has,” Hampton said.

Not all gay dads are so keen on female involvement in the parenting process. Lee Matthews became a dad for the second time two weeks ago, and is quick to emphasise he and partner Tony are the only parents their two-year-old son and new daughter have.

“Our children have two dads who love them and look after them. They don’t have a woman as a parent. So because there is no female parent, there is no mother,” Matthews said.

The Melbourne man can make the assertion with confidence because he and his partner became fathers through a surrogacy arrangement in the United States.

The same surrogate bore the couple’s two-year-old son Alexander and new daughter Lucinda, both times using another woman’s egg and sperm donation by Matthews and Wood.

Commercial surrogacy arrangements like those taken up by Matthews and Wood are unlawful in Australia. Even where they are permitted – like in parts of the United States – a price tag running to the tens of thousands is often a deterrent.

But while commercial surrogacy’s critics resent what they see as a business-like transaction, Matthews’s experience has been positive. “We’ve received nothing but support from so many aspects of the broader community, including the crèche that our first child goes to, right down to good old playgroup or Mums’ group that the local council offers new parents.”

He attributes the outcome to an inner city postcode and a robust defence of their parenting model. “I think we have actually been quite proactive in asserting why we want to be parents and that may result in people not asking.”

“[And] I think with most aspects of being gay, as soon as you can personalise it, people look at you as individuals.”

Meanwhile, gay men hoping to independently form a family in Australia face a struggle. Fostering, adoption and surrogacy are the three main options, according to Jenni Millbank. But fostering is not usually intended as a permanent parenting arrangement. And since same-sex couples cannot adopt in NSW, gay men must apply as individuals.

“There is much less likelihood that as an individual you’re going to get an [adoption] order compared to a couple,” Millbank said. International adoption is also competitive and skewed towards heterosexual couples, while commercial surrogacy is unlawful in Australia. Altruistic surrogacy – where the surrogate receives no payment – is highly complicated and prohibited in many states if medical expenses are paid or advertising occurs.

Adding to the legal complexities is possible discrimination, an area in which gay dads’ experience appears mixed. Like Lee Matthews, Gary Hampton said he and his partner had yet to experience much serious prejudice. The pair appeared on Channel Seven’s Sunrise program this week in a bid to raise awareness of same-sex parents, but will decline media appearances once Oliver starts at school to protect their son’s privacy.

They will also ensure teachers and parents at Oliver’s school know he is from a same-sex parented family, and are hopeful their son won’t experience harassment.

But another gay father believes prejudice is a real issue for would-be gay dads to weigh up, particularly if women aren’t involved as parents. Paul van Reyk has fathered six children to different mothers since the 1980s through private sperm donation arrangements.

“I think that there is a significant part of the population who is entirely comfortable with two women having kids,” the Sydney 53-year-old said. “[But] I think that they’d be less comfortable with two gay men who chose to have a child where there wasn’t, say, a ‘mother’ somewhere involved.”

“There is still a really strong prejudice against the notion that [gay men and lesbians] are absolutely reasonable parents.”

Gay dads can also expect limited support options, according to another gay father Reymon Leglise. After the then married father-of-three came out as gay two years ago, he faced a battle.

“I spent six months either searching the web, going to forums, going to different groups and outings and anything else, trying to find some form of support for children [of gay and lesbian parents].”

Leglise eventually established social group Gay Dads And their Young (GDAY) late last year.

GDAY runs social outings for about ten gay fathers and their children, but Leglise said it and a similar organisation in Melbourne were rarities.

The prospect of limited support, combined with legal complexities and possible prejudice might be enough to warn many gay men off fatherhood. But Lee Matthews dismissed those fears in the lead-up to his first Fathers Day as a two-time dad.

“It certainly cools the lifestyle down, there’s no doubt about that,” he said of parenthood as an openly gay man.

“But it opens up whole new social experiences that are quite wonderful and rewarding.”

[Link: Original Article]