Sunday, 10 February 2013

Times: ‘Gay couples will struggle to adopt regardless of law’

Equal rights lobbyist claims the problem stretches beyond Malta as adoption agency stresses its decisions are not based on sexual orientation
Monday, February 4, 2013 by Claudia Calleja

Appoġġ said all the applications it receives are treated equally and according to the Adoption Act.

Changing the law to allow gay couples to adopt a child is important for equal rights but the reality is that adoption will always remain difficult for same-sex partners, according to gay rights lobbyist Gabi Calleja.

The majority of children are adopted from overseas and adoption agencies in Malta compile a report about the prospective parents, which is sent to the country where the child lives.

“The problem is if this information (that the adoptive parent is gay) gets included in the report as there is currently no country open to gay adoptions.

“Even with a change in the law the problems for gay couples to adopt will remain. This is why we believe that second-parent adoption is much more likely and more important, at least for lesbian couples. This is when someone adopts their partner’s child,” Ms Calleja, from the Malta Gay Rights Movement, said.

But changing the law to allow gay couples to adopt together sent a strong message that good parenting was not dependent on sexual orientation, she added.

Over the past weeks both the Nationalist and Labour parties said they were not opposed to gay couples adopting.

Both put a blanket proviso – this had to be in the child’s best interest – and added the decision would be in the hands of the professionals.

Alternattiva Demokratika said these professionals needed guidelines and the law had to change to allow a gay couple to adopt. Current law only allows married couples or single people to do so.

The Times asked the Government’s support agency Appoġġ what guidelines were being used by professionals making these decisions.

A spokesman said that, as one of several accredited adoption agencies, Appoġġ abided by parameters set by the Adoption Act: a person can adopt if they are married or single; at least one of the married couple or the single person must be over 28; and there must be a maximum discrepancy of 45 years between them and the child.

“The law does not specify the sexual orientation of prospective adoptive parents. All the applications for adoption received by Appoġġ… are treated on an equal basis and according to the Adoption Act.

“The agency is bound to accept and process applications presented that are not specifically excluded by law, given that the applicants meet all the eligibility criteria,” the spokesman said.

Appoġġ has various responsibilities that include assessing the suitability of prospective parents through several home visits and an in-depth home study report.

The Adoption Board, independent from Appoġġ, approved prospective adoptive parents and the final decision was made by the law courts, the agency said.

A lesbian, who preferred not to be named, said she knew of cases where lesbian couples spoke up about their sexuality and were not allowed to adopt.

But as a board spokesman said: “The board never enquires about the sexual orientation of the applicant. The board does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Once a case was presented to the board, members discussed the home study report and assessed any other documents. If they were satisfied with the evidence, they moved to decide on the case.

“In the case of gay couples, yes, the board has come across applicants who have explicitly declared he/she is gay.

“In all circumstances and situations, the board makes sure the application is being filed according to law and discusses the case on its own merit.

“In the case of gay couples, they can apply separately to become a prospective adoptive parent and the board would consider on the suitability and eligibility of the applicant to adopt a child.

“The case is always decided taking into consideration primarily the best interests of the child, where the welfare of the child is paramount,” the spokesman said.

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