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Thursday 11 February 2016

Civil Unions and Adoption Reform?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 29th December 2015

It now seems as if an envisioned inclusive adoption reform bill is unnecessary in our context.

Since 2013, married gay couples have had the right to adopt children, albeit usually within their own established relationships and in the context of spouses of biological parents, although stranger adoption is available in the case of married same-sex couples. With a recent case argued before Judge I.A.Hardy, it seems that the Adoption Act 1955 is now to be applied to LGBT de facto couples as well as straight and same-sex married couples and straight de facto couples. This leaves out civil unions in the current context, although it is difficult to see how this exemption can be maintained. Either there will have to be further case law or a significant legislative amendment to the Adoption Act to include civil union partners, the Civil Union Act will remain exempt from inclusive adoptive parental responsibilities, or the Civil Union Act may have to be repealed or abolished and its partnerships merged with the reformed Marriage Act. Although the United Kingdom legislated for civil partnerships at the same time as we debated civil unions down here, it had already passed legislation that enabled same-sex couples to adopt in 2002, before its Civil Partnerships Act, which may explain its relatively greater UK uptake than our own civil unions. However, in the United Kingdom, straight couples are unable to contract civil partnerships, which is a point of contention that is unparalleled here. Our civil union legislation includes lesbians, gay men and straight couples alike.

I've met several New Zealand LGBT couples with children who've told me that they would not choose civil unions now precisely because adoptive parental responsibilities are not included within the ambit of that relationship option. As a consequence, civil union uptake will decline further and it will increasingly be seen negatively as an inferior and unequal option when it comes to relationship and parenting choices. At what point do we therefore say enough is enough and abandon civil unions as a meaningful relationship option? Could it be saved through ameliorative case law, given that legislative reform seems unlikely in the current parliamentary session? And if de facto couples can adopt children despite the absence of ceremonial and ritual markers of monogamous spousal status, what does that mean for civil unions, given that such relationships do have such markers, albeit in an alternative format to marriage? Or is it already too late? Official statistics record that only fourteen LGBT civil unions were carried out in 2014, one year after the arrival of marriage equality proper in August 2013.

As for further reform, there was an organisation called "Adoption Action" which was lobbying for such developments, but unfortunately, its prior website seems to be a dead link. We shall have to wait for further developments to achieve remaining increments of same-sex parenting equality.


"Same-sex de facto couples secure the right to adopt"Gaynz.Com: 21.12.2015:http://www.gaynz. com/articles/publish /2/article_17710.php

Civil Union Act 2004:http://www.legislation. latest/ DLM323385.html

UK Civil Partnership Act /ukpga/2004/33/contents

Craig Young - 29th December 2015

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