Saturday, February 18, 2012 , by Claudia Calleja
Sexual orientation should have nothing to do with whether a person is allowed to adopt a child or not, according to theologian Fr René Camilleri.
"I hate rules that become diktats applied across the board... I know single persons, irrespective of their sexual orientation, who make superb parents and married couples who are a disaster when it comes to parenting," he said.
"I strongly believe... that when it comes to adoption, the suitability of a person cannot be determined by sexual orientation or marital status. Parameters are needed but the interests of children for adoption are best safeguarded not by stereotypes," Fr Camilleri added.
Fr Camilleri was contacted after The Times reported that a Maltese Church-run Ethiopian orphanage, Kidane Mehret, has decided to stop adoptions by single people.
The issue was raised by columnist Alison Bezzina in a timesofmalta.com blog. Ms Bezzina alluded to the fact that the change in policy came from the Maltese Church saying it could have been aimed at stopping gay people from adopting children from the orphanage.
When contacted, a Curia spokesman denied that the Church had issued "formal instructions" to the orphanage to stop single parent adoptions.
He said that Archbishop Paul Cremona had "expressed his opinion" to the orphanage that it would be "preferable for children to be adopted by mar-ried couples".
Agreeing with Fr Camileri, Neil Falzon, from human rights' organisation Aditus said the Archbishop's message, that adoption should be limited to married couples, could deprive many children of a loving home.
Justice Minister Chris Said recently said that Appoġġ agency, that handles adoptions, had pending requests from 34 couples and five individuals.
Dr Falzon a human rights lawyer, said that as a private institution, the Church could decide who to facilitate adoption for. However, if its policy effectively deprived single people – gay or not – from adopting that would amount to discrimination.
Maltese law allowed single people to adopt. So, even though the orphanage was in Ethiopia, the Maltese Church would be discriminating if the instructions were issued from Malta, he argued.
"The Church is sending out a wrong message... Adoption is about the child's best interest. Is it better to remain in an orphanage in Ethiopia or to be adopted by a loving single person, even if that person is gay?" he asked.
Human rights lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia said that one had to distinguish between the remit of the Church and the state. The adoption process fell under civil law and was under the remit of public authorities.
The Church, which carries out priceless work among children around the world, had every right to express its opinion. However, if the Church exercised its influence in a discriminatory manner – by going against the law – it could be held liable for discrimination.
Gabi Calleja, who chairs the Malta Gay Rights Movement, added: "This is an issue of parenting rights and, irrespective of how one becomes a parent, these rights should not depend on sexual orientation."
All adoptive parents, couple or single, gay or not, should undergo the same process and be allowed to adopt if they were suitable parents, she said.
Appoġġ said all applications for adoption were treated equally: "The agency bases its assessment on the ability of the applicant to provide an environment that ensures the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of a minor to be adopted."
• Jenny* always knew she would never have a baby since she is gay, so she decided to use her maternal love to save an orphan from a poor country.
"I wanted to save a life and give a future to someone... So when I was in a steady relationship I found the support I needed to do it... I always wanted a baby... I could have easily gone out there and had sex with a man but I didn't want to do it that way," she says.
Jenny went through the formal channels to adopt her son, Tom*, who she is raising with her partner Sue*. Maltese law allows adoption by married couples and single people, so Jenny applied as a single parent.
"I was never specifically asked whether I am gay, so I didn't say anything. I knew that, if I did, it might work against me," she says.
Jenny and Sue say they had great respect for the people who run such orphanages. However, they feel very disappointed that the Ethiopian orphanage and the Archbishop are assuming that single people, or gay couples, are not fit to be parents.
Both Jenny and Sue are very aware that Tom might one day face some form of "mean comments" about their family situation. They are taking the necessary precautions.
Jenny says their decision to adopt was not easy. Like any other mother, she had to give up many things. But she would do it again.
"I will never forget the moment I first saw him... I cried so much... He was being held by a carer at the orphanage and he immediately came into my arms," Jenny recalls.
After that she took some time off to bond with her new son. She had to stop working and found support in her partner.
The couple have to face people's judgemental looks and comments. They have to live with the reality that, despite their love for one another, they cannot get married under Maltese law, even though Tom asks them to.
Despite this, Jenny finds strength in God who she knows is not judging her and takes Tom to Mass regularly.
*Names and certain details have been changed to protect the identity of the couple who wanted to maintain their privacy in the child's best interests.
• By giving preference to married couples over single people, the Ethiopian orphanage is not condemning children to a life of poverty, according to Marco Cremona.
"The argument that by preferring married couples over single persons the orphanage is condemning children to a life of poverty and misery is inaccurate and misguided," Dr Cremona, who, together with his wife, adopted two children from Kidane Meheret, said.
He said he had nothing against single people adopting children. "The single applicants have passed the eligibility test by the Adoption Board (just as married applicants have), so who am I to say that they are not suitable adoptive parents," he said.
Pierre Portelli, who also adopted a child (from another orphanage) a few years back, said he believed that adoption should be granted on the basis of a person or couple's competence as parents.
"I believe that every person, irrespective of whether he is gay, single or married should be treated on the merits of the case and then followed up by the competent authorities. A single person who adopts should go through the same screening process as a couple," Mr Portelli, who is married, said.
He believes an adoptive single parent should inform the court when entering into a relationship while an adoptive couple should do the same in case of separation or divorce, so the welfare of the child is protected.
[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]