Monday, June 28, 2010

Time to reform adoption law

Last week, in a landmark ruling, the High Court ruled that the Adoption Act's limit on joint adoption to "spouses" also applied to opposite-sex de facto couples. Its good news, which unravels some of the bigotry in our 50's era adoption law, but it has led to an oddity: When Parliament passed the Civil Union Act back in 2004, it specifically did not allow partners in a civil union to jointly adopt - meaning that there is clear Parliamentary intent that civil union partners aren't "spouses". The result is that while married and de facto opposite-sex couples can be "spouses", those in a Civil Union, who have made exactly the same legal commitment to each other as those who are married, and who enjoy exactly the same legal rights in every other respect, can't be. As for same-sex couples, they may be "spouses" if they're de facto, but cannot be if they are civilised (the ruling speculates, but confines its judgement to the actual case at hand, which is what judges are supposed to do).

This is simply perverse. Not to mention discriminatory. But that's what overblown fears of a bigot backlash gets you: a law which was intended to place all relationships on an equal legal footing has had exactly the opposite effect.

The result is disastrous for families. As pointed out a while ago, the 50's model of "stranger adoption" (on which both the Act and the bigots' fear of gay adoption is predicated) is no longer the norm. Instead, most adoptions are recognising and confirming existing family relationships - step-parents adopting their partner's kids to make it legal. But thanks to an outdated law, those in civil unions and possibly those in same-sex relationships cannot do this.

This has to change. While there's obviously scope for a test-case to explore the rights of same-sex de facto couples, the exclusion of those in civil unions is discriminatory and unjustifiable, and makes those people (gay or straight) second-class citizens. And that is unacceptable. The Greens had a bill to correct the situation; its time they hauled it out again and put it up for a vote.

In the longer term, the Act, rooted in the 1950's and an outdated model of adoption and family relationships, needs a complete rewrite. National has said this is "not a priority" for them. So someone else will have to step up and do it.

[Hat-tip: Pundit, Laws179.