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The Sydney Morning Herald – "Family law playing catch-up with real life" by Adele Horin

THE law has not caught up with the reality of families like Eamon’s. The question of who is a parent in these families is a crucial issue to be resolved. The Family Law Act, for example, with its presumption of shared parental responsibility and its new emphasis on shared residence, does not apply to lesbian parents who split up. The non-biological mother has no automatic rights and does not have to pay child support.

The co-parent’s lack of legal status affects a child’s standing under a host of laws, including those governing the right to inherit if the non-biological mother dies without a will, entitlement to superannuation after her death, and her power to consent to blood transfusions.

In Western Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory the co-parent’s name is on the birth certificate, and she has the legal status of a parent. The Victorian Law Reform Commission recommended this month that the state adopt a similar approach. A bill was drawn up in NSW last year to extend similar rights to co-parents but 18 months out from an election was considered too controversial. Such changes are usually only possible in the first year of a four-year term – that is in the next eight months.
Family law playing catch-up with real life

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June 16, 2007
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THE law has not caught up with the reality of families like Eamon’s. The question of who is a parent in these families is a crucial issue to be resolved. The Family Law Act, for example, with its presumption of shared parental responsibility and its new emphasis on shared residence, does not apply to lesbian parents who split up. The non-biological mother has no automatic rights and does not have to pay child support.

The co-parent’s lack of legal status affects a child’s standing under a host of laws, including those governing the right to inherit if the non-biological mother dies without a will, entitlement to superannuation after her death, and her power to consent to blood transfusions.

In Western Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory the co-parent’s name is on the birth certificate, and she has the legal status of a parent. The Victorian Law Reform Commission recommended this month that the state adopt a similar approach. A bill was drawn up in NSW last year to extend similar rights to co-parents but 18 months out from an election was considered too controversial. Such changes are usually only possible in the first year of a four-year term – that is in the next eight months.

[Link: Original Article]

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Categories: gay, Lesbian

The Sydney Morning Heralds – "I’m not gay, but my four mums are" by Adele Horin


EAMON WATERFORD is the sort of young man any mother would be proud to call son. He is smart, articulate, well-balanced, socially aware, and just downright nice.

In his case, there are one, two, three, and, at a pinch, four women who are proud to call Eamon “son”. There is Mary Waterford, the mother who gave birth to him almost 21 years ago, and Jill Day, Mary’s partner at the time. After they split up when Eamon was about two, Jill moved in with Sarah Dillane; and then Mary and Judy Finch became partners when Eamon was about six. All the women have been constants in his life since he can remember.

Eamon calls them “my four mothers” – and, while some might consider one mother too much, he enthuses about them all.

“I guess they all fulfil different aspects of parenting that I needed,” says Eamon, who divided his time equally between the two households until he left high school.

At a time when pressure is mounting on state and federal governments to overturn laws that discriminate against gay couples and gay parents, Eamon is a reassuring figure. His experience may represent the future for other children raised by gay parents.

He is a second-year student in international studies at the University of NSW, and is aiming for a career in politics or the diplomatic service. He shares a house with two female friends and his “brother”, Charlie, 19, with whom he is particularly close. Charlie is one of Judy’s three children by a former marriage.

That he has turned out so well would be unsurprising to the thousands of lesbian couples now fuelling a gay baby boom across Australia.

But to traditionalists who believe children need a mother and father to thrive, it may come as a surprise to learn that Eamon, according to a growing body of international research, is typical of children raised by lesbian couples. On average these children are as well-adjusted and competent as children raised by heterosexual couples – if not more so.

But this is not research politicians are acquainted with, and only recently has it become robust enough to withstand critical scrutiny. Many conservatives say gay parents will have a corrosive effect on the institution of the family, and will inflict psychological damage on the children they raise. Father-absence is a big concern.

As these children grow into adults, more are able to reflect on their own upbringing, and speak for themselves. It is not surprising they, too, turn the microscope onto their own families.

“Recently I’ve started questioning myself about how it has affected me,” Eamon says. “I had an absolutely female-dominated childhood; there must have been 30 or 40 lesbians I knew. But as one friend said, gay and lesbian parents will do things to mess their kids up in exactly the same way hetero parents will do.”

The long battle for equal rights for gay couples and gay parents is entering a crucial stage. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s report, “Same-sex: Same Entitlements”, to be tabled in Federal Parliament next week, is expected to recommend overturning a host of discriminatory federal laws, including laws that effect family tax benefits, parenting payment, and child support. After a three-year inquiry, a Victorian Law Reform Commission report, “Assisted Reproductive Technology and Adoption”, this month recommended extensive legal changes to give gay parents equal rights, including the right to adopt. Some of its recommendations will be discussed at a meeting of state and federal attorneys-general next month.

In NSW, the Government will come under pressure from the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby to introduce legislation giving children being cared for by same-sex partners the same protection under the law as other children. A crucial proposed change is to accord legal parental status to the lesbian partner of the birth parent.

As things stand, Jill, being Eamon’s non-biological mother, has no legal rights to access or custody, or obligations to pay child support even though she has been in his life since his conception, was present at the birth, and has shared the care. Compared with heterosexual fathers, lesbian co-parents have been consistently described by researchers as more involved in their children’s daily life. In one study, lesbian birth mothers reported more than 90 per cent of the co-mothers were equally involved in parenting, while this was only 37 per cent for straight fathers.

“What is needed is for state law to grant equal parental status for both women automatically from birth,” says Jenni Millbank, professor of law at the University of Technology, Sydney, “and for those presumptions to be reflected in federal law, such as the Family Law Act.”

In Eamon’s case only Mary is his legal parent. “Logically Mary as the biological mother was in the position of power when we split up,” Jill says, “but she is a woman with a great sense of honour, and she would not allow herself to exercise her power.”

In 1985, Mary and Jill were trailblazers among Sydney lesbians. Eamon was conceived through artificial self-insemination with sperm donated by a close heterosexual friend of his mothers. He was one of the first babies in Australia raised from birth by lesbian parents.

“As the social stigma around homosexuality declines, more women are coming out as lesbians earlier in life, and they are less likely to have children in a heterosexual relationship,” said Deborah Dempsey, a sociologist at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, who has done extensive research on gay families. “There is more confidence about bringing a child into a gay relationship than in the past.”

Mary, then 31, had such a strong maternal drive it swept all doubts away, including Jill’s when they embarked on the rather arduous project of conception. They had been a couple for only a year, but once Jill caught the maternal bug it struck with a vengeance. “When I look back on it now, I was very optimistic,” Mary says. “We would have a baby and this baby would be loved.”

As Eamon tells it over coffee, his childhood was idyllic, growing up in the Blue Mountains, with no sense of being different. The mountains became a haven for lesbians in the 1980s, some of whom had children from previous straight relationships, or soon followed Mary’s and Jill’s lead. He went to a progressive school, Korowal, where he liked basketball, athletics and cricket, and excelled in music, drama and debating. He cannot remember being bullied or teased. He was not alone as a child of lesbian parents.

“Particularly early on, the majority of my friends would have had lesbian parents; I was part of a community of children of gay parents,” Eamon says. “I guess it was when we spent a year in Alice Springs when I was about nine that I first realised it was unusual.”

As they were trailblazers in bringing Eamon into the world, so Mary and Jill became trailblazers in separation, providing something of a model of co-operation for those who have again followed in their wake. Just as more lesbian couples have come to emulate straights in having a family, so too are more of them getting “divorced”, Dr Dempsey says.

Eamon was too young to remember any tension over the break-up. Being shared 50/50 was an arrangement that was fantastic, he says, and at his insistence it continued through high school. Yet there was plenty of tension in the early years after Jill moved in with Sarah. “I was fearful of losing my position with him,” Jill says.

Mary says: “There’s a PhD to be written in sharing mothering … the competitiveness and jealousy around being the ‘good mother’. Then, when Sarah wanted to take on the role of being mother as well … that was terrible. I always came back to the idea it was to Eamon’s benefit to have a lot of people in his life.”

Jill says: “We both wanted to have this gorgeous little angel all the time but our most honourable selves would never allow that to happen.”

After Judy arrived on the scene with Charlie, 5, and two teenagers, the mothering relationship with Eamon was never as intense. However, he insists that she is one of his mothers. “Judy is the one I have a laugh with.”

The 2001 census recorded 20,000 self-identified same-sex couples, a figure regarded as a gross under-representation; 19 per cent of the lesbian couples and 5 per cent of the men had dependent children. Not counted were the single gays with children, non-resident gay parents and older children. A survey of almost 5500 gay people in 2005 showed 25 per cent of the women had children, and of those who did not, 51 per cent wanted them.

Most of the studies examine how the children are functioning. Are they normal by all the usual measures psychologists use, and teachers observe? One of the pre-eminent researchers is Charlotte Patterson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, who will address a conference on gay parenting to be held by the Rainbow Families Council in Melbourne on June 29. In a 1996 study, Patterson found no big differences among the children of 55 lesbians and 25 heterosexual women, all of whom had had children through donor insemination.

Last year the Canadian Department of Justice, before legal changes were introduced, reviewed all the main studies on children of gay families. It concluded “the vast majority of studies show that children living with two mothers, and children living with a mother and father, have the same levels and qualities of social competence”.

This was somewhat surprising, considering the potential for children of lesbian families to experience teasing, bullying and discrimination. But the research pointed to protective factors – the quality of the parents’ relationship, the high quality of parenting by lesbians, good economic resources, and outside support.

The children with poorer adjustment, the studies found, were more likely to be raised in single-parent families – but the parent’s sexual orientation was irrelevant. While many children raised by single gay or single heterosexual parents do well, they were at a similar elevated risk of difficulties compared with those raised in two-parent families. The gender of parents was much less significant, research showed, than having two of them.

Yet it is only natural, Eamon, thinks, that his unusual family should have left some distinctive imprint. There is the unresolved relationship with his father, for example, and the general lack of male role models in his early life.

Mary and Jill wanted Eamon to know his father, typical of lesbian parents, who are mostly acquainted with the need for children to know their biological roots. Dr Dempsey says: “The two-parent model with the involved donor is one of the most popular parenting models, but there is a continuum from no father involvement to his role as a third parent.”

Jill and Mary wanted a father who was willing to be acknowledged, who would have some involvement, but not a day-to-day parenting role. Eamon, who looks like his father, and lived quite close, saw him occasionally. They had a friendly enough relationship. Yet an awkwardness remains, and emotional closeness eludes them. His father married – “Do I call his wife stepmother? There aren’t enough words to describe these relationships.” This “fifth” mother, Eamon says, “recognises a want in me and him, and our difficulty in doing anything about it.” She has set up holidays together, and the relationship has improved.

Looking back, he understands he craved male role models, and the world of manly things. Between the mothers, he had several uncles, but most of them lived at distances. He became very close to Nick, one of Sarah’s three brothers, but he died when Eamon was 12. “I was hugely affected,” he says.

The subtext in some people’s concerns over gay parents is that they will raise gay children. To gay parents, the very question of their children’s sexuality reveals a homophobic premise – that it matters. But Judith Stacey, professor of sociology at New York University, believes there probably are differences when it comes to sexuality, and they should be celebrated.

“Even a genetic theory would lead you to that conclusion,” she told The New York Times.

However, the research on the young adults’ sexuality is sparse and inconclusive. The children of gay parents understandably are less affronted by homosexuality than most of their peers. They are more likely to consider a gay relationship, and even to experiment but, according to the limited research, appear no more likely to identify as gay. As researchers point out, nearly all gay people were raised by heterosexual parents.

It seems intrusive to ask Eamon about his sexuality, but he has given it some thought. “A lot of people, because of the way they’ve been brought up, never question their sexuality,” he says. “I’ve always known I was attracted to women. For a while I wondered: how did I know I wasn’t attracted to men? I know I’m not gay. But I have a lot of male gay friends, and a lot of female friends. But with heterosexual men I find it harder to have a close emotional bond.”

Eamon is full of praise for his four mothers. He does not want to be defined by their sexual orientation. But they have helped make him the man he is. They have shaped his humanitarian values, his tolerance of difference, his political conscience, and his intellectual curiosity. Aware of how hard home life has been for some of his friends from straight families, he considers himself “amazingly lucky to have these incredibly loving parents”.

[Link: Original Article]

The Age – "The Gay Couple"


SARAH Marlowe gave birth to twins Callum and Rafi almost a year ago. Being clinically infertile, she was legally able to use IVF in Victoria.

Now her partner Felicity wants to have a baby. But the “problem” is that Felicity does not have a fertility problem,

which means she cannot legally access these services in this state.

Instead of going to the expense of travelling to a more permissive state, Felicity intends to use the sperm of a known donor and inseminate herself at home.

It’s not ideal, and she would prefer to be inseminated by a doctor at a clinic. The couple see a clinic as her best chance of getting pregnant, but legally she can’t do that unless the Government adopts the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s recommendations.

The pair say a bigger problem is the lack of legal recognition for Felicity as the twins’ legal parent. Under current laws only the biological mother can be on the birth certificate.

They welcomed yesterday’s recommendations giving both parents legal recognition. Felicity, speaking on behalf of the Rainbow Families Council, said the report reflected the reality

of diverse families. “At the moment it’s still in the climate of uncertainty and we’d love there to be some legal certainty as soon as possible.”

[Link: Original Article]