Tuesday, December 10, 2013, 11:27 by Kurt Sansone
[Click on the hyperlink above to watch the video.]
This evening's edition of Times Talk will discuss adoptions by gay couples with government and opposition spokesmen as well as the main players in the field.
For the past 10 years Mary* has raised two adopted children with her partner, giving them an education and the love of a family.
But despite being present in their lives from the first day of adoption as babies, Mary has no legal link to her children.
She is lesbian and with Joyce*, her partner, they could never adopt as a couple. Legally the children belong to Joyce, who had to feign being single to get around the law.
“When we decided to adopt we did what every couple does: sit down, discuss the matter, evaluate the pros and cons and took a responsible decision.
“But it was only one of us who could start the process as a single person and I had to remain out of the equation when the social worker came to visit,” Mary admits.
But the current status worries her. If something happens to her partner, Mary will have no legal title over the children.
There is no right to parenthood; there is no right to adopt, but there is the right of the child to be cared for
Mary’s story is not unique. Although there are no statistics that show how many gay couples have adopted children over the years, it is an open secret that those who wanted to raise a family either pretended to be single or got in-vitro fertilisation treatment from abroad.
Mary hopes this anomalous situation will be rectified when Parliament approves the Civil Unions Bill that will allow her and Joyce to be legally recognised as a couple. In its current form the law will also enable Mary to adopt Joyce’s children as well as allow them to adopt new children as a couple.
But the issue may not be so straightforward. Even if political consensus does exist on affording legal recognition to same-sex couples, the same cannot be said of adoption rights.
A recent MaltaToday survey found that although the majority agreed with civil unions, only 25 per cent supported gay adoption.
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has sounded the alarm bell, calling for more studies before a decision is taken on whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt children.
The Prime Minister labelled Dr Busuttil’s position a step backward on his predecessor’s stand that sexual orientation should not be an issue in adoption processes.
But the debate on gay adoptions has been contentious in every country that passed laws recognising same-sex couples.
Only nine European countries allow joint adoptions by gay couples, according to figures released in May by ILGA-Europe, a gay advocacy group. However, the number increases to 14 when second-parent adoptions are taken into account. A second-parent adoption is when a partner adopts the biological children of the spouse.
In August, Austria changed its law to allow second-parent adoptions for same-sex couples after the European Court of Human Rights said it was discriminatory to distinguish between unmarried heterosexuals and unmarried gay partners.
The law being debated in Malta is expected to grant gay couples full marriage rights in all but name. This means that adoption law will not be able to discriminate against gay couples.
But as the parliamentary debate continues, former Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo believes there is a lack of information on gay adoptions.
He says it was unfair on MPs and society to be foisted with such a sensitive subject without having expert advice to guide their judgement.
Mr Vassallo acknowledges that expert advice may be contradictory – there are various international studies that have reached opposite conclusions on whether gay adoptions are salutary for children – but he insists that society has to have information at hand to make an informed choice.
He says the government has a duty to present reports and studies in Parliament conducted by public institutions such as the Child Commissioner and the Family Commission.
“We cannot base our decisions on sentiments and feelings without having the information at hand,” Mr Vassallo adds.
It is a sentiment echoed by Auxiliary Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who says the Church supports the call for an impact study taking the Maltese scenario into account.
The Civil Unions Bill changes the law that determines who is to be considered a parent, he argues. “It introduces two new sets of legal parents: John and John; Jane and Jane.”
This is not about the rights of gays but about creating a new type of family where the founding principle is not marriage between a man and a woman but any social partnership, he adds.
Mgr Scicluna says the overriding principle should be the best interest of the child and advocates that in those cases where the child cannot be brought up by his parents, the adoptive parents should follow the mother-father pattern found in nature. Adoption by a single parent is an exception, he adds.
“There is no right to parenthood; there is no right to adopt but there is the right of the child to be cared for,” he insists, urging society “not to play with the innocence of children”.
But Mary has no doubts about her actions. What she and Joyce have given their two children is the love of a family, she says.
“Tell me what any straight couple can do better than us?”
The reply will pretty much depend on who answers the question.
*Names have been changed to protect the children’s privacy.