Will Victorians adopt change for same sex couples?

By Erin Handley | 28 Nov 14

When Jason Tuazon-McCheyne and his husband Adrian wanted a child of their own, adopting from overseas was their first choice.

But before they could attend an information session on intercountry adoption, they received a phone call from the adoption agency telling them: “Don’t bother coming, because we don’t have any agreements with countries that allow same sex couples to adopt.”

“It was a bit depressing, to be honest,” Mr Tuazon-McCheyne said.

“There are kids who need parents.”

When Australia signed an historic agreement with South Africa in May this year permitting same sex couples to adopt a child internationally for the first time, the announcement was bittersweet.

Not only was it too late for the Tuazon-McCheynes, but as Victorians, they are still shunned from adopting a South African child, as the state does not permit same sex adoption.

That may be set to change for Victorians at the upcoming election, as state Labor unanimously voted to legalise gay adoption at a conference in May.

State Labor LGBTI Equality spokesman Martin Foley said state legislation “needs to catch up with reality” and the South African agreement brought the issue of same sex adoption in Victoria into “stark national relief”.

“We now are potentially facing the situation where international agreements are leaving our legislative framework behind,” he said.

Prospective parents are subjected to state adoption laws, which vary across Australia, a spokesman for Attorney-General George Brandis said.

“Australians interested in adopting a South African child need to meet eligibility criteria set by their state or territory central authority, as well as South Africa’s eligibility criteria,” he said.

Same sex couples living in New South Wales, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT are eligible to adopt a child, while their counterparts in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory are not.

While the Napthine government has said it is “not philosophically against” same sex adoption, Minister for Community Services Mary Wooldridge said further research was needed to ensure the “best interests of the child” were met.

She said Member for Prahran Clem Newton-Brown has a preliminary paper for the state government to consider the issue.

  “The science is in, and the research is there, and orientation and gender make no difference to parenting.”

Mr Foley said same sex adoption was crucial to legitimising hundreds of existing rainbow families who are discriminated against in schools and hospitals.

“It’s when you meet those people and their families that you know that the law literally is an ass, because there is no good reason that these families are being cast as second-class citizens.”

Left with surrogacy as their only option to become fathers, the Tuazon-McCheynes flew to the United States to conceive their son, who is now eight years old.

“To be a parent is the best thing ever—our son is the light of our life, and also the life-sucker of our life,” he said.

Commercial surrogacy was “very expensive”—the combination of travel, medical and legal costs could amount to the price of a car or an apartment—and it is also illegal in Australia.

With limited options available to gay men, Mr Tuazon-McCheyne emphasised that adoption should become a viable pathway.

He was disappointed the South Africa agreement would not extend to same sex couples in Victoria, and criticised the Napthine government, which recently announced it was open to the idea of same-sex adoption but required some “proper science” before changing the law.

“It’s extraordinary that Victoria is still falling behind on this,” he said.

“The science is in, and the research is there, and orientation and gender make no difference to parenting.”

The Tuazon-McCheynes, who founded the Australian Equality Party in February this year, welcomed the South Africa agreement that includes same sex couples for the first time, though it comes too late for them.

“If I was 10 years younger and intercounty adoption was an option, we would pursue it,” Mr Tuazon-McCheyne said.


Faster adoption processes risk prioritising the needs of parents over the rights of children

The Abbott government has reduced the red tape on overseas adoption for prospective parents, who have previously waited between five and 10 years for a child.

Mr Abbott reiterated his commitment to the issue earlier last week, on the eve of National Adoption Awareness Week, vowing to cut wait times for international adoption to one year.

But RMIT Dean of Graduate Research Denise Cuthbert said hastening international adoption process held “grave dangers for children”.

Professor Cuthbert has researched intercountry adoption extensively and said the factors that cause long waiting periods exist to provide safeguards to children and ensure international adoption is in the child’s best interest.

“Any move to access children more quickly risks, in my view, opening the door to practices which are not only illegal, like child trafficking, but immoral,” she said.

She cautioned a faster adoption process risked prioritising the needs of parents over the rights of children to know their identity, language and culture, and that adopted children “invariably encounter quite crippling identity issues”.

The South Africa agreement is the only Australian intercountry scheme to include same sex couples, as determined by South African law, but further agreements currently being negotiated with Cambodia and Vietnam are unlikely to follow suit, the Attorney-General’s spokesman said.

Erin Handley is a journalist at the Northern Daily Leader in Tamworth. She has written for The Age, The Guardian, The Australian, Crikey and ArtsHub. She is a former Farrago editor and she also edits for Right Now. You can follow her on Twitter @erinahandley.