Submission re Queensland Registering Life Events Discussion Paper

The following is my submission in response to the Queensland Government Registering Life Events: Recognising sex and gender diversity and same-sex families Discussion Paper. For more information on this review, go here.

 

BDM Act Review Team

PO Box 15188

City East, Brisbane QLD 4002

bdmlegislativereview@justice.qld.gov.au

 

Wednesday 18 April 2018

 

To the BDM Act Review Team

 

Submission re Registering Life Events Discussion Paper

 

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission in response to the Registering Life Events: Recognising sex and gender diversity and same-sex families Discussion Paper.

 

I write this submission as a long-time advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

 

I also write this as a cisgender gay man, and am therefore guided by the views of those groups directly affected by the provisions of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003.

 

Specifically, with respect to questions 1 to 7 I endorse both the submission to the current review by Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA),[i] and the Sex and Gender Advisory Group’s letter to the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department Review of the Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender.[ii]

 

Where there is any inconsistency between this submission and the views of these groups, I defer to them as experts in these areas.

 

Question 1. How should a person’s sex be recorded on the birth, adoption and death registers?

Question 2. Do you have any other comments on this issue?

 

I support the views expressed in Recommendation 3 of the Intersex Human Rights Australia submission that: Queensland should end legal classification of individuals by sex or gender, in line with the Darlington Statement and the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10.

 

I also agree with IHRA that this recommendation is unlikely to be achieved in the short-term and therefore support their recommendation 4, namely that: In the absence of an end to legal classification of individuals by sex or gender, Queensland should recognise ‘non-binary’, alternative (for example, self-affirmed) and multiple sex markers. Changes should be available [via] a simple administrative procedure, for example, via a statutory declaration.

 

I note that this terminology, and in particular the use of the term ‘non-binary’, was also supported by the Sex and Gender Advisory Group in its letter of 24 September 2015.

 

Question 3. Should any changes be considered to the BDMR Act and BDMR Regulation to improve the legal recognition of sex and gender diverse people in Queensland? If so, what should the changes be?

Question 4. Should any changes be made to the BDMR Act’s provisions regarding an application to note a reassignment of sex for children/young people under the age of 18? If so, what should the changes be?

 

Yes, significant changes must be made to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003 to improve the legal recognition of sex and gender diverse people in Queensland. This includes the removal of the major hurdles that currently prevent people from accessing accurate and appropriate identity documentation.

 

First, the requirement that trans and gender diverse people must have ‘sexual reassignment surgery’[iii] before being able to update their sex on the birth register must be removed. This requirement is inappropriate as not all transgender people want or are able to undertake such procedures (for a variety or reasons, including financial).

 

Second, the requirement that applications to note the reassignment of a person’s sex ‘must be accompanied by statutory declarations, by 2 doctors, verifying that the person the subject of the application has undergone sexual reassignment surgery’ [section 23(4)(b)] must also be removed. The medicalisation of identity recognition processes is also inappropriate – doctors should not be ‘gatekeepers’ of the identity of trans and gender diverse people.

 

The process for updating sex and gender details should be based on the experience and/or identity of the individual involved – not the opinion of medical ‘experts’ – and should be straight-forward, most likely affirmed through a simple statutory declaration.

 

The same principles should also apply with respect to minors, with no medical gatekeepers involved, and the only caveat being that they are able to demonstrate their capacity for consent. Obviously, this also means that where a minor is able to demonstrate such capacity, they should be permitted to amend their identity documentation in the absence of approval from parent(s) or guardian(s).

 

Finally, I endorse Recommendation 6 of the Intersex Human Rights Australia submission that: In the absence of legislation and regulation that implements prior BDM recommendations, the Queensland government should ensure that a separate, simple and accessible pathway is available for people born with variations of sex characteristics to correct details on birth certificates.

 

Question 5. Should the BDMR Act contain provisions to allow for the reassignment of a person’s sex for individuals who reside in Queensland but whose birth was registered elsewhere?

Question 6. Should BDMR Act allow for the issuing of a gender recognition certificate/identity acknowledgement certificate which can be used by a person as proof of their sex or gender?

Question 7. Do you have any other comments on this issue?

 

Yes, I support the inclusion of provisions to allow for the reassignment of a person’s sex for individuals who reside in Queensland but whose birth was registered elsewhere. This would seem to be an important practical measure for people who are unable to update these details in other jurisdictions, for a variety of possible reasons.

 

I am not in a position to comment on the process for such recognition – including the specific proposal for the issuing of a gender recognition certificate/identity acknowledgement certificate – and defer to the views of trans, gender diverse and intersex organisations on this question.

 

Question 8. Should the BDMR Act be amended to permit same-sex parents to choose how they are recorded on a birth or adoption registration?

 

Yes, although this should not be limited to ‘same-sex parents’ – all parents should be able to nominate how they are recorded. This would better reflect the diversity of modern families, not just in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity, but also in terms of methods of family creation.

 

Question 9. If so, what descriptors should be available and in what combinations?

 

At the very least, parents should have the option of nominating as ‘mother’, ‘father’ or ‘parent’, thereby allowing the combinations of mother/father, mother/mother, father/father, mother/parent, father/parent and parent/parent.

 

I am not in a position to comment on what other terms may be preferable (especially with respect to the potential use of ‘birth mother’ or ‘birth parent’) but encourage the BDM Act Review Team to consult directly with rainbow families on these issues.

 

Question 10. Do you have any other comments on this issue?

 

I note that the Discussion Paper states that ‘[t]he issue of whether or not a child’s birth or adoption registration should include more than two parents and the issuing of integrated birth certificates listing more than two parents will be canvassed in a subsequent discussion paper.’

 

I take this opportunity to pre-emptively express the view that, in contemporary Australia, there is already a wide range of family structures in existence – including where children are raised by three or four different parents – and that the law should be amended to reflect this reality.

 

Additional Comments

 

I also take this opportunity to express my support for the first two recommendations of the Intersex Human Rights Australia submission to the current review, namely that:

 

Recommendation 1. Queensland should protect children’s right to bodily integrity, in line with the Darlington Statement and the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10

and

Recommendation 2. The Queensland government should protect people from discrimination and violence on grounds of ‘sex characteristics’, in line with the attribute defined in the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10.

 

These are important issues and both represent serious shortcomings in Queensland law (as well as in other jurisdictions within Australia). The Queensland Government has in recent years adopted a progressive agenda on LGBTI issues overall – I strongly encourage it to add both of these items to that list.

 

Thank you for considering this submission as part of this important review. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details below should you require additional information.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

Palaszczuk

The Palaszczuk Labor Government has already enacted a strong LGBTI reform agenda – but there’s plenty left to do.

 

Footnotes:

[i] Morgan Carpenter, 4 April 2018: https://ihra.org.au/32033/submission-bdm-queensland/

[ii] Gavi Ansara, Sue Webeck, Morgan Carpenter, Peter Hyndal and Sally Goldner, 24 September 2015, as published on the National LGBTI Health Alliance website: https://lgbtihealth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/FOR-DISTRIBUTION-AGD-Sex-and-Gender-Guidelines-Review-Advisory-Group-Endorsement-Letter.pdf

[iii] Defined in the Act as:

‘means a surgical procedure involving the alteration of a person’s reproductive organs carried out:

(a) to help the person to be considered a member of the opposite sex; or

(b) to correct or eliminate ambiguities about the sex of the person.’

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Submission re Queensland Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016

The Queensland Labor Government has proposed legislation to finally allow adoption by same-sex couples in that state. The Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 is currently being considered by a Parliamentary Committee, before being debated and voted upon later in 2016.

My submission to the Committee is included below. If you are reading this post on Wednesday 12 October, you can also watch the Committee’s public hearings about the Bill here.

**********

Research Director

Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee

Parliament House

George St

Brisbane QLD 4000

c/- hcdsdfvpc@parliament.qld.gov.au

Tuesday 4 October 2016

To the Committee

Submission re Queensland Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission regarding the Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill (‘the Bill’).

In this submission, I will focus on one aspect of this legislation – the proposed reform to allow same-sex couples to adopt children.

This reform is outlined in clause 13 of the Bill, which would amend section 76 of the Adoption Act 2009 to remove the requirement that a person expressing an interest in being assessed for suitability as an adoptive parent has a spouse, and that their spouse is not of the same gender as themself.

I strongly support this reform, for two reasons.

First, it removes unjustifiable discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

The overwhelming majority of credible research shows that children raised in same-sex parented families are as healthy, and as happy, as those raised by mixed-sex couples.

As Deborah Dempsey found in the 2013 research paper “Same-sex parented families in Australia”[i]:

“[o]verall, research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children. Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families”.

This conclusion was supported by research in the following year, by Dr Simon Crouch and others, that:

“children with same-sex attracted parents in Australia are being raised in a diverse range of family types. These children are faring well on most measures of child health and wellbeing, and demonstrate higher levels of family cohesion than population samples.”[ii]

These findings accord with reputable studies from overseas, with evidence consistently revealing that children from same-sex parented families experience the same levels of physical and mental health as their peers, if not better.

Based on this research, continuing to impose legal criteria that restricts prospective adoptive parents to those who have a spouse of a different gender, can be seen for what it really is – discrimination against LGBTI people that is both unnecessary, and completely without foundation.

It is time such discrimination was removed from the statute book, and I am grateful that the Bill will accomplish this.

Second, and even more importantly, removing this discrimination is in the best interests of children because it will help ensure an adopted child has the best possible adoptive parents.

As the research demonstrates, parenting ability has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Some cisgender heterosexual people make wonderful parents, while others do not. The same is undoubtedly true of members of the LGBTI community.

But to determine that only people who are in mixed-gender relationships may apply to become adoptive parents, while the LGBTI people who would make wonderful parents may not, carries with it the inherent risk that a child misses out on being adopted by more suitable parents solely because past Queensland Parliaments have determined that those people do not have the ‘right’ sexual orientation, gender identity or sex.

After all, it is only logical that, if the pool of prospective adoptive parents is reduced because of irrelevant criteria, the overall depth and quality of that pool is diminished.

Indeed, this argument was explicitly acknowledged in the second reading speech by Minister Fentiman, who noted that:

“[t]he bill recognises the need to provide fairness and equity and amends eligibility criteria to enable same-sex couples, single people and people undergoing fertility treatment to adopt a child. This will result in a broader and more flexible pool of people from which to select for assessment as suitable adoptive parents. Importantly, this change will mean more options will be available for matching a child to prospective adoptive parents who will best meet the child’s individual needs.”

On the basis of the above two reasons – that the Bill will remove unjust discrimination against LGBTI people, and that the proposed changes are in the best interests of children who are adopted – I urge the Committee to recommend that the Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 be passed.

Ultimately, I call on the Queensland Parliament to support this reform as a matter of priority, thus recognising the diversity of modern families, and ensuring that they are treated equally under the law.

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide a submission on this important Bill. Should the Committee want any additional information, or wish to clarify any of the above, I can be contacted at the details provided below.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

[Update 10 January 2017: Queensland Parliament passed legislation to allow for adoption by same-sex couples on Wednesday 2 November 2016, removing a major barrier to the equal treatment of LGBTI people, and relationships, under Queensland law. The Brisbane Times reported on this long-overdue law reform success here.]

 

Footnotes:

[i] Dempsey, D, “Same-sex parented families in Australia”, Child Family Community Australia, Research Paper No. 18, 2013.

[ii] Crouch, S, Waters, E McNair, R, Power, J, Davis, E, “Parent-reported measures of child health and wellbeing in same-sex parented families: a cross-sectional survey”, BMC Public Health, 21 June 2014.

Submission to Review of the Queensland Adoption Act 2009

Update 16 January 2017:

Queensland Parliament passed legislation to allow for adoption by same-sex couples on Wednesday 2 November 2016, removing a major barrier to the equal treatment of LGBTI people, and relationships, under Queensland law.

The Brisbane Times reported on this long-overdue law reform success here.

Update 11 August 2016:

On Saturday 6 August, the Queensland Government announced that, in response to this review, it will be proposing legislation to ensure that single people, and same-sex couples, will be able to adopt legally in Queensland.

The consultation report can be found here.

This is obviously wonderful news for rainbow families – both existing and prospective – and for LGBTI Queenslanders generally. I am thankful to have played a small part through this consultation. Please see my own submission to this review below.

Original Post:

The Queensland Government is currently undertaking a review of the Adoption Act 2009.

This is an important opportunity for the LGBTI community to let the Government know that the current discriminatory provisions contained in the Act – which prevent same-sex couples from together adopting children, and which also prevent a same-sex partner from adopting their partner’s child – must be removed as a matter of priority.

Full details of the consultation can be found here. Public submissions close 5pm Friday 11 March 2016. The following is my submission:

Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services

Child and Family Legislative Review

PO Box 806

Brisbane QLD 4001

adoptionactreview@communities.qld.gov.au

Sunday 6 March 2016

To whom it may concern

Submission to Review of the Queensland Adoption Act 2009

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this submission as part of the five-year review of the operation of the Queensland Adoption Act 2009.

In this submission, I will primarily focus on one of the nine questions posed by the Discussion Paper, namely:

  1. Do you consider the eligibility criteria provisions of the Act to be fair and continue to meet the needs of children who require adoptive families?[i]

In my view, the answer to this question is unequivocally no.

As stated in the Discussion Paper, the Adoption Act 2009 currently requires that “To be eligible to express an interest [in adopting] a range of criteria must be met: [including]

The person has a spouse who:

  • is also eligible
  • is not the same gender as the person
  • has been the person’s spouse for at least two years”[ii] [emphasis added].

This is clearly neither fair, nor is it in the best interests of the child(ren).

To begin, including a requirement that prospective adoptive parents must be in mixed-gender relationships, rather than in a relationship with someone of the same gender, is unfair in its discriminatory approach toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, excluding the majority of LGBTI people from even applying to adopt children in Queensland.

This discrimination is not supported by evidence showing that children are ‘better off’ being adopted exclusively by cisgender heterosexual couples.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of credible research shows that children raised in same-sex parented families are as healthy, and as happy, as those raised by mixed-sex couples.

As Deborah Dempsey found in the 2013 research paper “Same-sex parented families in Australia”[iii]:

“[o]verall, research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children. Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families” [emphasis added].

This conclusion was supported by research in the following year, by Dr Simon Crouch and others, that:

“children with same-sex attracted parents in Australia are being raised in a diverse range of family types. These children are faring well on most measures of child health and wellbeing, and demonstrate higher levels of family cohesion than population samples.”[iv]

These findings accord with reputable studies from overseas, with evidence consistently revealing that children from same-sex parented families experience the same levels of physical and mental health as their peers, if not better.

The criteria which restricts prospective adoptive parents to those who have a spouse of a different gender should be removed from Queensland’s Adoption Act 2009 as it unnecessarily, and completely without foundation, discriminates against members of the LGBTI community.

Even more importantly, it should be removed because it potentially denies an adopted child from having the best possible adoptive parents.

As the research referred to above demonstrates, parenting ability has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Some cisgender heterosexual people make wonderful parents, while others do not. The same is undoubtedly true of members of the LGBTI community.

But to determine that only people who are in mixed-gender relationships may apply to become adoptive parents, while the LGBTI people who would make wonderful parents may not, carries with it the inherent risk that a child misses out on being adopted by more suitable parents solely because the Queensland Parliament has determined that those people do not have the ‘right’ sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

After all, it is only logical that, if the pool of prospective adoptive parents is reduced because of irrelevant criteria, the overall depth and quality of that pool is diminished.

If adoption laws are to be based on the best interests of the child, and nearly all people agree that should be the case, then this is another compelling reason to remove eligibility criteria based on the gender(s) of the prospective adoptive parents.

These factors – the discriminatory impact of the Queensland Adoption Act 2009 on LGBTI people, and the failure to take into account the best interests of the child – are both exacerbated in the current denial of the ability of people who are in same-gender relationships to apply to be the adoptive parents of their partner’s child (ie step-parent adoption)[v].

In this situation, and based on the other eligibility criteria contained in the Act, the applicant, their partner and the child(ren) involved would have been living together for at least three years. That’s three years of sharing a home and living together, for all intents and purposes, as a family.

What possible justification could there be to say that an LGBTI step-parent should be denied the ability to adopt their partner’s child, where they would otherwise be able to if they were cisgender and heterosexual?

In my view, and I would hope the view of the majority of the Queensland Parliament, there can be no justification for discriminating in this way, and denying these families – because they are families, irrespective of what the current law says – the legal protections that they require, and that they deserve.

Introducing adoption equality – by removing restrictions on the ability of LGBTI people to adopt, both ‘unknown’ children and their partner’s child(ren) – would also bring Queensland laws into line with the majority of other Australian states and territories, thereby aiding national consistency in this important area of family law and legal recognition[vi].

As the Discussion Paper notes[vii], NSW, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT all have existing adoption equality laws. In the time since the Discussion Paper was released, Victoria has also amended its laws to ensure that LGBTI people have the ability to adopt children[viii].

With South Australia currently reviewing its adoption laws, and the realistic prospect that adoption equality will be introduced there in the near future, that would leave the Northern Territory as the only other jurisdiction in Australia continuing to discriminate against adoptive parents on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

By passing amendments to the Adoption Act 2009 to remove discrimination against LGBTI people, Queensland Parliament would therefore be helping to recognise the 21st century reality – that rainbow families exist, and that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people can be just as good parents as cisgender heterosexual people.

Thank you for taking this submission into account as part of the five-year review. If you would like more information, or to clarify any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Shannon Fentiman

Queensland Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, and Child Safety, the Hon Shannon Fentiman MP.

[i] Discussion paper: Public consultation for the review of the operation of the Adoption Act 2009, page 9.

[ii] Ibid page 8.

[iii] Dempsey, D, “Same-sex parented families in Australia”, Child Family Community Australia, Research Paper No. 18, 2013.

[iv] Crouch, S, Waters, E McNair, R, Power, J, Davis, E, “Parent-reported measures of child health and wellbeing in same-sex parented families: a cross-sectional survey”, BMC Public Health, 21 June 2014.

[v] The Discussion Paper states on page 12 that: “A person may apply to the Chief Executive to arrange an adoption of a stated child if: the person’s spouse is not the same gender as the person.”

[vi] Which is relevant to question 7 on page 16 of the Discussion Paper: “Are there approaches in other jurisdictions that Queensland could consider?”

[vii] Discussion Paper, Appendix: Adoption in Australia – Inter-jurisdictional analysis of legislative provisions.

[viii] ABC News, “Same-Sex Adoptions Laws Pass Victorian Parliament” December 9 2015.

Submission to Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry into Surrogacy

Update 19 May 2016:

In advance of the widely-anticipated election announcement by Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday May 8, a range of Parliamentary Committees handed down inquiry reports in the first week of May. This included the inquiry into surrogacy conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, with their final report – called Surrogacy Matters – available here.

This update will provide a brief summary of that report, including consideration of whether they incorporated any of the recommendations made in my submission to the inquiry (included below).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the Committee was chaired by George ‘the Safe Schools program is like grooming’ Christensen, the Committee did not support any change in approach to commercial surrogacy in Australia:

Recommendation 1. The Committee recommends that the practice of commercial surrogacy remain illegal in Australia.

Nevertheless, this is still a disappointing outcome, particularly given the Committee did accept my suggestion that a body like the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) could be tasked to develop best practice legislation in this area – they just decided to limit it to altruistic surrogacy:

Recommendation 2. The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in conjunction with the Council of Australian Governments, consider the development of a model national law that facilitates altruistic surrogacy in Australia. The model law should have regard to the following four guiding principles:

  • that the best interests of the child should be protected (including the child’s safety and well-being and the child’s right to know about their origins),
  • that the surrogate mother is able to make a free and informed decision about whether to act as a surrogate,
  • that sufficient regulatory protections are in place to protect the surrogate mother from exploitation, and
  • that there is legal clarity about the parent-child relationships that result from the arrangement.

Looking at this recommendation in detail, I can see absolutely no reason why these same ‘guiding principles’ could not also be used to develop a framework for commercial surrogacy for inclusion in the model law (but that would take a Committee, and a Parliament, with more courage than the one that was just dissolved).

On the positive side, the Committee notes on page 5 that “[m]any inquiry participants also highlighted a number of discriminatory provisions that exist in relation to gender, marital status and sexual orientation” in state and territory laws (and referenced submissions from the Australian Human Rights Commission, myself, and the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby).

As a result, one of the factors the Committee believes the ALRC should consider is “the need for State and Territory laws to be non-discriminatory” (Recommendation 3), which is obviously welcome.

However, the Committee’s recommendations around international commercial surrogacy are far less welcome – and far more frustrating.

The Committee acknowledged that the ban on domestic commercial surrogacy is a major contributing factor to Australian couples, including LGBTI couples, seeking access to commercial surrogacy in other countries. It also acknowledged that the criminalisation of this practice, by Queensland, NSW and the ACT, has so far been ineffective in stopping it.

But, instead of using this evidence to justify a reconsideration of the domestic prohibition of commercial surrogacy, the Committee decided to reinforce this ‘criminalisation’ agenda:

Recommendation 9. The Committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce legislation to amend the Migration Act 1958 such that Australian residents seeking a passport for a young child to return to Australia are subject to screening by Department of Immigration and Border Protection officials to determine whether they have breached Australian or international surrogacy laws while outside Australia, and that, where the Department is satisfied that breaches have occurred, the Minister for Immigration is given the authority to make determinations in the best interests of the child, including in relation to the custody of the child.

So, in Christensen & co’s ideal world, Department of Immigration and Border Protection officials will investigate Australian families who return from overseas with children born through surrogacy arrangements and, presumably, assist in their criminal prosecution under state and territory law.

Most worrying of all is the proposal for the Minister for Immigration to make determinations about the custody of that child, including potentially stripping their parents of responsibility. Imagine for a moment the current Minister, Peter Dutton (or his predecessor, Scott Morrison) making such decisions, including about LGBTI families? Let’s hope that terrifying reality never comes to pass.

All in all then, while the Committee’s Surrogacy Matters report does include some positive recommendations (such as supporting the principle that state and territory surrogacy laws should be non-discriminatory), its failure to reconsider the ban on domestic commercial surrogacy, and its approach to international commercial surrogacy, is frustrating and worrying, respectively.

George Christensen

George Christensen, Committee Chair.

 

**********

Original Post:

Committee Secretary

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs

PO Box 6021

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

spla.reps@aph.gov.au

 

Thursday 11 February 2016

 

To whom it may concern

 

Submission to Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry into Surrogacy

 

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission to the inquiry into surrogacy, being conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs.

 

In this submission, I will not be addressing all eight terms of reference of the inquiry in detail.

 

Instead, I propose to focus on the following three issues:

 

  • Surrogacy and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) parent(s)
  • National consistency and
  • Commercial surrogacy, including international commercial surrogacy.

 

These three issues are of particular relevance to the first three terms of reference of the inquiry:

 

  1. the role and responsibility of states and territories to regulate surrogacy, both international and domestic, and differences in existing legislative arrangements
  2. medical and welfare aspects for all parties, including regulatory requirements for intending parents and the role of health care providers, welfare services and other service providers [and]
  3. issues arising regarding informed consent, exploitation, compensatory payments, rights and protections for all parties involved, including children.

 

For context, I am writing this submission as an LGBTI advocate and activist, and as someone who is in a long-term same-sex relationship, but not as someone who intends to enter into a surrogacy arrangement at any point in the foreseeable future.

 

Surrogacy and LGBTI parents

 

While I am not an expert in surrogacy policy and/or law across Australia, I am aware that different jurisdictions have adopted different approaches to the eligibility of LGBTI people to access surrogacy.

 

Specifically, it is my understanding that, while most Australian jurisdictions now allow non-discriminatory access to altruistic surrogacy (including my current state of residence, NSW), some jurisdictions continue to prohibit same-sex couples solely on the basis of their sexual orientation – including both South Australia and Western Australia.

 

There can be no justification for this discrimination.

 

The overwhelming majority of credible research shows that children raised in same-sex parented families are as healthy, and as happy, as those raised by mixed-sex couples.

 

As Deborah Dempsey found in the 2013 research paper “Same-sex parented families in Australia”[i]:

 

“[o]verall, research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children. Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families” [emphasis added].

 

This conclusion was supported by research in the following year, by Dr Simon Crouch and others, that:

 

“children with same-sex attracted parents in Australia are being raised in a diverse range of family types. These children are faring well on most measures of child health and wellbeing, and demonstrate higher levels of family cohesion than population samples.”[ii]

 

These findings accord with reputable studies from overseas, with evidence consistently revealing that children from same-sex parented families experience the same levels of physical and mental health as their peers, if not better.

 

Given this, I believe that it is time for the remaining Australian jurisdictions to remove any outstanding discrimination against LGBTI people seeking access to surrogacy. To support this objective, the current inquiry should express its support for the equal treatment of LGBTI parents and prospective parents, and encourage remaining jurisdictions to amend their laws.

 

Recommendation 1: The Committee should expressly support the principle that there should be no discrimination against LGBTI people seeking access to surrogacy and should encourage jurisdictions that currently discriminate against LGBTI people in this area to remove such discrimination as a matter of priority.

 

National Consistency

 

The above issue (LGBTI eligibility) is just one area where there is significant inconsistency in the legislative approach to surrogacy across Australia.

 

There are a variety of other inconsistencies, including the very different treatment of international commercial surrogacy by different states and territories (which will be addressed in more detail below).

 

There seems to be little justification for Australian jurisdictions to adopt such widely divergent approaches.

 

Moreover, the differences in legislative approach can have significant impacts on people who may be mobile, moving regularly between jurisdictions, who are contemplating becoming parents and where surrogacy is one, or even the most likely, method in which this may occur.

 

Alternatively, the differences in legislative approaches to surrogacy may induce, or in some cases compel, people to move between states and territories, especially to avoid possible criminal sanction.

 

As someone who has already lived in four different jurisdictions for extended periods (and twice in one of those jurisdictions), it seems illogical that at different points in time I would not have had access to altruistic surrogacy due to where I lived at the time, or that currently accessing international commercial surrogacy would make me a criminal in some of those places, but not others.

 

Wherever possible – and provided that LGBTI people are not denied access to surrogacy because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status – I believe that the laws regulating surrogacy should be consistent across all Australian jurisdictions, and that the current inquiry should adopt this as a principle for proposed reforms.

 

Recommendation 2: Provided that LGBTI people are not discriminated against, the Committee should expressly support the principle that the laws regulating surrogacy should be uniform across Australian states and territories, wherever possible.

 

Commercial Surrogacy, including International Commercial Surrogacy

 

The first two parts of this submission have covered issues that should be uncontroversial for most people – that LGBTI parents, and prospective parents, should be treated equally, and that, wherever possible, there should be national consistency on the laws which apply to surrogacy.

 

There is no denying, however, that the third issue is inherently controversial – and that is the question of whether, and if so how, commercial surrogacy should be allowed in Australia.

The current response by Australian states and territories has been to prohibit domestic commercial surrogacy in all circumstances, with three jurisdictions[iii] going one step further and criminalising participation in international commercial surrogacy arrangements as well.

 

My approach to this issue is informed by the following four observations:

 

  1. Surrogacy arrangements, and especially commercial surrogacy arrangements, contain a risk of exploitation of the surrogate
  2. The risk of exploitation significantly increases in the absence of appropriate regulatory oversight
  3. There are some women who perform the role of surrogate, who wish to be paid for this service and who would not be exploited by doing so, and
  4. There are many prospective parents, including but not limited to LGBTI (and especially gay male) people, for whom commercial surrogacy is their most likely avenue to become parents and who are therefore willing to participate in these arrangements, domestically or internationally and, in some cases, irrespective of its potential illegality.

 

Based on these observations, I do not believe that the current approach adopted by the states and territories on this issue is the correct one.

 

Instead, it is my view that it would be preferable for commercial surrogacy to be made lawful within Australia, but only within a regulatory framework that includes appropriate safeguards and oversight to minimise the risk of exploitation of surrogates.

 

As I have submitted previously to the NSW Government[iv], and to the National Health & Medical Research Council[v], I believe that the NSW and/or Australian Law Reform Commissions could be tasked with investigating this issue, and proposing a regulatory framework that significantly reduces the risk of surrogate exploitation.

 

This framework could then be considered by the respective Parliaments, rather than debating the issue of commercial surrogacy in the abstract, which is too often the case, and which too easily leads to blanket bans rather than a more considered approach.

 

Indeed, as I wrote to the NHMRC:

 

“While I agree that commercial surrogacy raises a variety of complex ethical issues, I do not necessarily agree with… broad-sweeping and all-encompassing statement[s] against commercial surrogacy. I do not believe there is sufficient evidence to assert that in every single situation commercial surrogacy is ‘unethical’ or ‘wrong’.

 

“Of course, I am, like most people, sensitive to the very real potential for commercial surrogacy to result in the exploitation of women for their reproductive capabilities. This has to be a major, if not the major, consideration in determining whether to allow commercial surrogacy and if so what form of regulation might be appropriate.

 

“However, I am also aware that the current legal situation – where commercial surrogacy in Australia is banned, and as a direct result of these laws an increasing number of Australian individuals and couples are engaging in commercial surrogacy arrangements overseas – may in fact cause a far greater degree of exploitation of women, certainly in developing countries and/or countries which do not closely regulate surrogacy arrangements.

 

“It may be that a domestic ban on commercial surrogacy has, contrary to the intended outcome of those who introduced it, in fact resulted in greater exploitation of women when considered as a whole. It may also be that, creating a domestic commercial surrogacy scheme, which would allow for direct oversight by Commonwealth (or State and Territory) authorities, could lead to a significant reduction in the potential for such exploitation…

 

“I… believe that this is an issue that requires further investigation, and could be the subject of a comprehensive review by the Australian Law Reform Commission, or their State and Territory equivalents.

 

“The ALRC could be asked not to review whether such a scheme should be adopted but to determine, if commercial surrogacy was to be allowed in Australia, what the best possible scheme (with the least potential for the exploitation of women) would look like. The Parliament, and the wider community, could then discuss and debate the option that was put forward and make an informed choice about whether such a model was preferable to the ongoing domestic ban on commercial surrogacy (and the corresponding trend to overseas surrogacy arrangements).”

 

It is my view that this process has the potential to produce a regulatory framework to allow commercial surrogacy within Australia that would significantly reduce the risk of surrogate exploitation and therefore allay the concerns, and garner the support, of a majority of stakeholders.

 

Recommendation 3: The Committee should recommend that the Australian Law Reform Commission be asked to review the issue of domestic commercial surrogacy and develop a regulatory scheme that significantly reduces the risk of exploitation of surrogates and which is then presented for the consideration of Parliament.

 

The above discussion obviously focuses on the issue of domestic commercial surrogacy, leaving the even more vexed question of international commercial surrogacy unanswered.

 

To some extent, I would hope that, were commercial surrogacy to be allowed within Australia, the demand to engage in international commercial surrogacy arrangements would be significantly reduced.

 

However, the introduction of such a scheme, either nationwide or in some states and/or territories, is likely to be years away. In the meantime, Australian individuals and couples will continue to seek to participate in international commercial surrogacy arrangements.

 

I think it is undeniable that some of these arrangements have already led, and will continue to lead, to the exploitation of the surrogate involved. There have also been very public examples of such arrangements where the child involved has been abandoned.

 

But I also believe that there are other examples where no such exploitation has taken place, and that the arrangement has demonstrably been to the benefit of all parties concerned, including the parents, the surrogate and the child(ren).

 

Given this, there are a range of options that could be explored, including the introduction of ‘mutual recognition’ laws, where, provided appropriate safeguards and oversight exist, the commercial surrogacy schemes of specific countries are deemed to be accepted under Australian law. However, I will leave it to experts in this area to provide submissions on how such options might be drafted.

 

What I do want to comment on is the approach of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory in criminalising those people who currently engage in international commercial surrogacy arrangements.

 

While, as indicated above, I understand the motivations behind such prohibitions, I question whether in practice they have been successful. Specifically, it is my understanding that individuals and couples from all three jurisdictions continue to engage in international commercial surrogacy.

 

Even if the overall number who do so has been reduced from before the respective bans were introduced (which may not be verifiable, and therefore may or may not be true), there are nevertheless negative consequences for children who are born through such arrangements.

 

This can include increased uncertainty of their legal parentage when their families have returned to Queensland, NSW and the ACT, as well as the obvious risk of criminal sanctions being imposed on their primary caregiver(s) were the international commercial surrogacy arrangement involved to come to the attention of authorities. As a general principle, it is difficult to see how criminalising the parents involved in such cases would benefit the child(ren).

 

In this context, and given the laws in all three jurisdictions have been in operation for some time, I believe it would be useful for Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory to specifically review their criminalisation of international commercial surrogacy arrangements, including the potential detriment of these policies on the children born as a result of such arrangements.

 

Recommendation 4: The Committee should recommend that states and territories that have introduced criminal sanctions for people engaging in international commercial surrogacy arrangements should review the effectiveness of these laws, including investigating their impact on the children born as a result of these arrangements.

 

Thank you again for the opportunity to make a submission to this inquiry. I can be contacted at the details provided with this submission should the Committee wish to obtain additional information, or to seek clarification of any of the above.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

 

[i] Dempsey, D, “Same-sex parented families in Australia”, Child Family Community Australia, Research Paper No. 18, 2013.

[ii] Crouch, S, Waters, E McNair, R, Power, J, Davis, E, “Parent-reported measures of child health and wellbeing in same-sex parented families: a cross-sectional survey”, BMC Public Health, 21 June 2014.

[iii] ACT (Parentage Act 2004, s45), NSW (Surrogacy Act 2010, s11) and Queensland (Surrogacy Act 2010, s54).

[iv] Submission on Review of the NSW Surrogacy Act 2010, April 23 2014.

[v] Submission on NHMRC Review of Ethical Guidelines for Assisted Reproductive Technology Stage 2, September 17 2015.

Letter to Prime Minister Abbott re Intercountry Adoption by Same-Sex Couples

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Prime Minister

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Cc Dr Ian Watt

Secretary

Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet

PO Box 6500

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Saturday March 8 2014

Dear Prime Minister

INTER-COUNTRY ADOPTIONS BY SAME-SEX COUPLES

I am writing regarding the issue of inter-country adoptions. Specifically, I call on you to ensure that the processes governing inter-country adoptions treat all couples equally, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

I note that you announced in December 2013 that the Department of Premier and Cabinet would be investigating the issue of inter-country adoptions, reporting to you on ways the processes governing inter-country adoptions can be streamlined ahead of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, now scheduled for Friday 2 May in Canberra.

I also note recent reports about the potential for new arrangements for recognising adoptions by Australians with respect to children from Taiwan and South Korea.

However, I am unaware of any reports about work underway to ensure that all bilateral and, where relevant, multilateral, agreements concerning adoption entered into by Australia recognise the equal rights of all couples, including same-sex couples, to adopt.

There is no legitimate reason to prevent couples that may include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) individuals from adopting.

In fact, the most recent report on the issue of same-sex parenting, commissioned by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, reaffirmed independent research over the past decade in finding that “there is now strong evidence that same-sex parented families constitute supportive environments in which to raise children.”

The report – Same-Sex Parented Families in Australia by Dr Deborah Dempsey (December 2013) – further confirmed that “children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families.”

Speaking about the report to the Sydney Morning Herald in February 2014, author Dr Dempsey said “[i]t’s not the family structure that matters so much as the kind of care; that children are loved, and are taken care of.” In practice, same-sex couples are just as capable of providing for the best interests of the child as opposite-sex couples.

Given these and other research results, I seek your commitment to ensure there is no discrimination against same-sex couples contained in any inter-country adoption agreement which Australia signs.

On a related issue, one of the administrative barriers to efficient inter-country adoption processes must be the variety of different, often conflicting, adoption criteria that operate in Australian states and territories.

For example, while my fiancé Steven and I would likely be eligible to adopt in Sydney, we would not be eligible to adopt were we to relocate to Melbourne. I doubt that our suitability as parents would differ simply because we moved 1000km to the South.

As before, there is no legitimate reason to prevent couples that include LGBTI individuals from adopting, and that must include within and between Australian jurisdictions.

The report which you have commissioned and will be presenting to the COAG meeting in May is an ideal opportunity for you to call on the states and territories to adopt uniform adoption laws, in particular to ensure that all Australian states and territories allow all couples to adopt, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

This would be a benefit not just to the administrative efficiency of Australia’s inter-country adoption processes, but also to the equal rights and status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.

Finally, I note during the week reports of disagreement within the Coalition partyroom on the subject of single and same-sex couple parenting. Specifically, it was reported that Senator Cory Bernardi expressed his support for Minister Kevin Andrews’ defence of so-called ‘traditional families’.

In response, Liberal MP for Herbert, Ewen Jones, defended families headed by single people, and same-sex couples, saying that what was more important was that children were loved, not what gender their parents were. Mr Jones later told Fairfax Radio “I think it’s the quality of the role model, male or female, not the sexuality of the parents that maters” – a sentiment similar to that expressed by Dr Dempsey, above.

It was also reported that you responded to the debate by saying “[w]e need to be as supportive of people as possible, regardless of their circumstances.”

Taking you at your word, I sincerely hope that you will be supportive of all Australian couples, including same-sex or otherwise LGBTI-inclusive couples, having the same rights to adopt children from other countries.

You have the chance to demonstrate this support through the review of inter-country adoption which you have commissioned, and through your advocacy at the upcoming COAG meeting which will discuss this issue. I and other same-sex couples around the country will be watching which approach you take.

Thank you in for your consideration of this correspondence.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

How Does Tony Abbott’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme Affect Same-Sex Parents?

The following is a letter which I have tonight sent to the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, about his Paid Parental Leave (PPL) policy. Despite the fact that PPL has been Liberal-National policy for more than 3 years, it remains unclear whether same-sex parents are included on an equal basis and, if so, how the rate of payment to the primary carer is calculated.

While I probably don’t expect an answer from him before the election, I think it is incumbent upon all activists in this area to keep asking these questions until we get a response – because after all, we deserve to know how this policy will affect LGBTI people before cast their votes.

Dear Mr Abbott

PAID PARENTAL LEAVE AND SAME-SEX PARENTS

I am writing to you concerning the Paid Parental Leave (PPL) policy which you are taking to the 2013 Federal Election. Specifically, I would like to know how the PPL policy will apply to same-sex parents.

Firstly, can you please confirm that same-sex couples will qualify, on an equal basis, to PPL under a Liberal-National Government? This should include the ability of one parent to access primary carer leave, and another parent to access the shorter, paid parental leave – in the same way that heterosexual couples would qualify.

Secondly, I would like to know how the rates of these payments will be calculated. Based on information already released, my understanding is that, for all heterosexual couples, primary carer payments will be calculated according to the salary of the ‘mother’ (irrespective of who is in fact the primary carer after birth).

How are payment rates for the primary carer calculated for same-sex couples, including male couples who have children through adoption or surrogacy? The salary of the ‘birth mother’ in these circumstances may be irrelevant, especially where she does not become a parent of the child. In this case, would same-sex parents be able to nominate the primary carer and therefore the salary according to which the payment is calculated?

These are important questions which you and the Liberal-National Coalition should answer ahead of the election – Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community deserve to know how one of your long-standing policies affects them, or indeed whether it covers them at all.

Thank you in advance for considering this correspondence.

Yours sincerely

Alastair Lawrie