While gay couples in Australia remain unable to marry, state governments have been steadily granting them the right to adopt children.
In November, the Queensland and South Australian parliaments both voted in favour of lifting state bans on same sex adoption. The South Australian reform is now being considered by their upper house. If passed, gay adoption will be legal in every Australian jurisdiction except the Northern Territory.
The debate in South Australia has been acrimonious. Trade Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith slammed proposed reforms, which also included provisions for single people to adopt. He told parliament that “it is so nice if you can run off and go through IVF, or … adoption, get yourself a child without having to go through that awfully inconvenient process of having a partner”.
Greens state MP Tammy Franks told SBS Sexuality that Mr Hamilton-Smith’s remarks show he has “zero understanding of the adoption process”. She said that “nobody runs off” to adopt—the procedure takes years. Rather, it’s couples having children the so-called 'natural way' that often do so due to “a split-second decision,” she says.
Shaun and Blue Douglas-Galley – the gay adoptive parents from the UK whose fierce lobbying led to the South Australian reforms – know just how difficult it is to adopt. They say it's even worse trying to move to a state where gay adoption is illegal.
“It took two years to be approved to adopt Joshi, our first son, who came to us at 15 months of age,” says Shaun.
Before being approved as adoptive parents, UK officials interviewed Shaun and Blue’s ex-partners, conducted personality assessments and made them both do a work experience stint with local children.
A year later they adopted a second baby, Dylan. Both children were unsettled at first, given earlier trauma, so the couple put their careers on hold and invested hundreds of hours showering the kids with attention and support. This resulted in Joshi and Dylan becoming bright, well-adjusted boys.
Three years ago, the family decided to emigrate to Adelaide in search of a better lifestyle, and all seemed well at first when they were granted residency visas. But they were later put through hell.
“The day before we were due to fly out we received an email informing us our visas were suspended pending further checks. We were given no reason,” says Shaun.
With flight tickets already bought, the family flew to Singapore, where they spent eight weeks in limbo before finally being allowed entry into Australia. Only later did they find out the nature of the problem – the South Australian government did not know how to handle a non-traditional family type not recognised by its laws.
After surviving their offshore processing, the couple embarked on a vigorous lobbying campaign to change the laws. They wrote to over 70 politicians and garnered 27,000 signatures on an online petition, leading to a review of state adoption laws and the reform bill currently before parliament.
“I’m so excited to see progress finally being made,” says Shaun.
Paul Oosting, National Director of GetUp, a community group promoting progressive causes, says: “It's certainly welcome to see further evidence that we, as a society, are moving in the direction of greater equality. But it's also frustrating to think that we've already had these signs for so long in another issue of LGBTIQ equality - marriage - and nothing has been done.”
Greens MP Tammy Franks agrees, saying it shows “federal parliament is totally out of touch with the rest of Australia”.
While state governments are leading the push for LGBTIQ equality, moves to make adoption more accessible can also provide greater stability for the increasing number of Australian children living in temporary foster care or institutions. Adoption is very rare in Australia, and many child protection advocates believe allowing kids to have non-traditional parents is preferable to leaving them with no parents at all.
Renee Carter, Chief Executive Officer of not-for-profit advocacy organisation, Adopt Change, says “while Adopt Change welcomes legislative reform, there is still much more work to do to ensure permanent, loving homes for children in South Australia. Only three Australian children were adopted in South Australia in 2015. To put this in context, there were 30,000 children in Australia (including 2,085 in SA) who have been living away from their biological families for more than two years due to abuse and neglect who need permanency. Adoption should be a legitimate option for these children and more needs to be done to give them this opportunity in a timely manner”.
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Photographs supplied by Shaun Douglas-Galley