I rise to speak on the Adoption Amendment (Adoption by Same-Sex Couples) Bill 2015. I am most pleased to speak on the bill because it is an election commitment that is being fulfilled. The Andrews Labor government promised to put equality back on the agenda, and prior to last year’s election we promised to abolish every bit of discrimination from Victoria’s law books. This bill is just part of our broader equality agenda. On this side we believe that equality is not negotiable. Discrimination against same-sex couples is anachronistic. Let us call it out for what it is: it is prejudice. There is no basis in science for it, and it is a hangover from less enlightened times.
The Andrews Labor government has a vision of a community where children in same-sex families suffer no harms because of the discriminatory attitudes and behaviours of their peers at school or in other parts of their lives. Righting the wrong of excluding same-sex families from adoption will help achieve that vision, and that is why last year Labor promised to review the Adoption Act 1984. Currently the act permits only couples in heterosexual relationships to make a joint application to adopt and excludes known parent adoptions in same-sex families. Quite simply this is ridiculous. A person’s sexual orientation has absolutely no bearing on their ability to be a loving parent. As a matter of fact, discriminating against same-sex couples potentially deprives children in need of being placed with a loving family.
The bill fulfils the Andrews Labor government’s promise to review the Adoption Act with a view to removing discrimination against same-sex couples and their children by legalising both known-parent adoption, where there is an existing relationship between a child and the adoptive parents, and adoption in general.
The Adoption Act 1984 currently excludes the following categories of people from adopting: same-sex couple applicants, couple applicants where one or both partners do not identify as a specific gender, and step-parent applicants who are in a same-sex relationship with the parent of the child or in relationships where either partner does not identify as a specific gender. This is what Labor has promised to change. We do not believe there is any place for legislated discrimination in Victoria. We promised to remove discrimination in legislation. Before the last election, Labor provided a commitment to provide a safe and fair Victorian society for the LGBTI community.
This bill contributes to that commitment. In short it allows same-sex couples to adopt, and that is a fair thing. The statistics on same-sex parents report no difference or slight advantage to children raised by these parents. It is still a fairly simple proposition. If you pass the rigorous test to be granted the privilege of adopting a child, then your gender is not relevant. It is about the love that can be provided. This bill will allow both parents to adopt. To be clear, this legislation makes no change to section 9 of the Adoption Act 1984. This is a key part of the legislation. Section 9 of the Adoption Act states:
In the administration of this act, the welfare and interests of the child concerned shall be regarded as the paramount consideration.
This remains the most important consideration and will continue to apply under the proposed amendments, as will existing safeguards, such as the requirement that the applicants be fit and proper persons.
So there you have it: the child’s welfare is paramount and only fit and proper people can adopt. Gender does not have a role in determining a fit and proper person to raise a child; character does. Gender or whom one chooses to love is not relevant in determining fitness to raise a child. This legislation will remove that outdated concept that gender or sexual orientation has some relevance to character. All credible polling shows that Australians believe that same-sex couples should have equality before the law. As a matter of fact, Western Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales all have similar legislation and — you know what? — the sky has not fallen in.
This is not a matter of politics; it is a matter of equality. It is time to make a change. Same-sex adoption is legal in Victoria, but only one parent can be recognised as the parent. This creates a number of legal grey areas, such as who can sign certain documents. Passing this bill will remove the fog around enrolling at school, accessing health care and travelling overseas. This debate has lasted for nearly a decade, and tonight, hopefully, we can resolve it and resolve it in a way that is fair and in a way that removes discrimination from the law. This debate will not go away. We need to deal with it now, and we should deal with it now.
This bill will amend the religious exemptions in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 to exclude their application to adoption services. In relation to comments that have been made in respect of that, I wish to put on the record that religious freedom as it pertains to the charter of human rights relates to individuals, not agencies. Clause 17 does not impact on an individual’s right to religious freedom. Instead clause 17 ensures that an agency contracted and funded by the state to provide a state service must service all Victorians. Faith-based adoption agencies will not be able to rely on a religious defence to discriminate in the provision of adoption services. This is to ensure that neither same-sex couples nor children are unfairly discriminated against in the provision of adoption services.
The state is required to act in a non-discriminatory way as a secular provider of services and cannot rely on religious defences when providing public services. Access to adoption services should be provided equitably, with the welfare and the interests of the child concerned the paramount consideration. It is important to note here that three of the four adoption services in Victoria support this bill. It is expected that if the fourth ceases to provide services, the effect will be minimal. It is their right to take that position. Dare I say it, as the Holy Father said, ‘Who am I to judge?’.
But in this place we are held to a different standard. The state is secular. We can neither advocate for nor lobby against a particular religious view. We are here to ensure all Victorians are equal before the law. Adoption agencies provide services on behalf of the state. These services must be available to all Victorians. Discriminating against certain Victorians because of their sexual preference and whom they love is not equitable.
Further to the fundamental point that discrimination in law is not what our legislative framework should do, there are the rights of the child to be considered. By discriminating against the LGBTI adopting parents there is a twofold risk. Firstly, children already living in their family may be deprived of the chance to formalise the loving arrangements they already live in through adoption; and secondly, children may miss the opportunity to be placed with the most suitable adoptive parents. Neither of these is an acceptable outcome.
If we go back to section 9 of the act, the child’s welfare and interests should be the paramount consideration. Denying a child the formalisation of a relationship with their parents because the state says the parents are not worthy is hardly in the child’s best interests. Denying a child a loving home because of whom their prospective parents love is definitely not putting the child’s welfare first, let alone paramount. That is why this bill is important, because at the end of the day it is merely about ensuring the laws of this state reflect the society that its citizens live in. There are thousands of same-sex parent families in this state. They deserve equality before the law and so do their children. The Andrews Labor government believes that too. This bill is a further step in making equality before the law a reality. I absolutely commend the bill to the house.