Modernisation of adoption law

“Kevin Hague launches gay adoption bill”. Sigh. I’m gay, but that doesn’t make my bill a gay adoption bill. It’s true that in 2009 I did have a Bill in the ballot to extend the categories of people who could adopt to include same-sex and de facto opposite-sex couples. But I was persuaded that the Adoption Act 1955 was in need of complete replacement, and that making piecemeal changes of the Act would only be a distraction and a waste of time.

As a result, in 2009, I embarked on a process of translating the Law Commission’s recommendations about adoption into a Bill, and I launched that new Bill on Sunday. It incorporates adoption processes (and new processes for altruistic surrogacy) into the Care of Children Act, making the best interests of the child paramount in all decisions, and making “open” adoptions the usual form (the current law only provides for closed adoptions, where all relationship with, and knowledge of, biological family is severed). Certainly the Bill provides for any individual or couple to be able to make an application to adopt. Having all options on the table helps make for the best decision in the interests of the child.

This Bill is very big and complex. I believe that the cross-Party approach that I set up was the best way of proceeding, and have been very pleased that work in the last Parliament led me to be able to continue work with Nikki Kaye (and many others outside Parliament) to produce this Bill. Along the way we are certain to have made some mistakes or policy decisions that others disagree with. That is why I have indicated that while the Bill sits in the ballot waiting to be drawn I am very keen to get feedback, so that we can refine it and advance important law reform that has the broadest possible support.

“But your Bill and Jacinda’s are very similar. Why are you voting against hers?” To understand that you need to look at the Bills – they’re not similar at all. Jacinda’s Bill does not change adoption law in any way. While my Bill is a substantive reform of adoption and surrogacy law, Jacinda’s instead gets the Minister of Justice to ask the Law Commission to update the advice they have already given on adoption reform and turn that into a bill. With the best will in the world, that process will take at least two or three years to arrive at the point we have already reached, and will use valuable Law Commission money and time to bring us to where we already stand! Even then the notional Bill would require a well-disposed government to do something with it. Well if we had one of those, it would pick up my Bill and advance it as a Government one. And hers doesn’t deal with surrogacy.

Labour withdrew from the cross-Party process on adoption in order to advance Jacinda’s approach – a choice of unilateralism over multilateralism. In my opinion it is a history of unilateralism from successive governments that has led to the situation we have now, where everyone agrees the existing law is obsolete and harmful, but nobody has done anything about it. I told Jacinda at the time, and then said publicly, repeatedly, that we opposed her move, because what we really need is an approach that will actually takes us forward, not a bill that won’t pass and is instead a distraction from the goal of having adoption law that actually works for families. It should be no surprise to anyone that our position hasn’t changed. Supporting Jacinda’s Bill would undermine the cross-Party work we have been doing for the last 3 years.

Sometimes friends might agree on a destination but disagree about the route to get there. Jacinda’s Bill will be defeated at First Reading (and would have been regardless of how the Green Party voted). While that is happening we will be continuing to progress my Bill and make any required improvements. I am sure Labour people will have helpful suggestions for how to improve our Bill, and I hope they will be prepared to rejoin a cross-Party approach to securing this important reform.

See here for a link to my Bill and here for some frequently asked questions.


About Kevin Hague 163 Articles

Green Party Member of Parliament

8 Comments Posted

  1. I support the great work you are doing for LGBT = rights Kevin. Thanks to the others here who have made some interesting and insightful comments. I wanted to post up an excellent video by Dan Savage on the subject of “gay adoption” in response to Chris but I can’t find it on Youtube anymore.

  2. Hi Kevin. I want to applaud the considerable work that you and Nikki have undertaken in drafting this legislation. I too am frustrated by the media’s insistence that this is a ‘gay adoption’ bill; it’s more accurate that the exclusion of same-sex couples from adoption is just one of the many outcomes of maintaining an archaic piece of legislation on the books. The need to modernise a whole raft of adoption practices (and their legal status) is well overdue, and your work in this area has been fantastic. I hope it gets drawn, and passed!

  3. Hi Kevin,

    I cannot comment specifically on whangai arrangements amongst Maori families, but similar arrangements are very common in the Pacific Islands. They are not viewed as unusual, and the thought of treating them differently in law from any other family is a foreign concept. Some reasons for such arrangements include (amongst others):

    * The birth mother and father are not capable of adequately supporting the extra child. This may be because of illness, already having a lot of children, lack of money and so on.

    * Maybe a close relative is not capable of having children. It is not uncommon for a child to be informally adopted from a family member who already has several children.

    One of my children is “adopted” in such an arrangement. The law has not had any involvement in the guardianship arrangements; it was decided upon within the extended family. My daughter is cared for and loved exactly as a biological child is. The only difference is she is lucky enough to have two Mums and Dads. I guess it would be similar to an open adoption; no information has been withheld from my daughter, and there are no limitations on contact with her birth parents (except they live in a different city).

    There are really no major difficulties associated with this sort of arrangement. The only issues seem to come from palangi (white) people who don’t understand such arrangements. For example, there were some issues with children in her class who had never encountered anyone from this sort of “open adoption”, and thought it strange (or didn’t believe her at all).

    There are some legal implications as well, which I suppose need addressing. For example, death benefits from my superannuation policy only go to my wife and biological children, no matter what I put in my will. I have yet to work out how I can ensure both children are treated equally. There are also issues associated with immigration (my wife and I were once closely questioned by an immigration official who I suspect thought we were smuggling a child out of New Zealand). But other than that, there is nothing which cannot be solved by the use of a simple statutory declaration from the birth mother, and I am not sure I would want the law to intrude upon the arrangements which have been decided upon amongst the extended family.

    Changing the topic slightly. To those who argue adoption laws protect children, here is a hypothetical question: If you were considering caring for a child, would it make a difference if the arrangement was by formal adoption, or if it was an informal one. If so, why? Is it because of the fear that the child may one day go back to the birth parents? If so, who is the law really protecting, the carers or the child?

    This is not to say that adoption laws don’t need overhauling, but maybe the whole concept of a legal adoption needs reviewing as well?

  4. Good on you Chris, for expressing your view. However what you “think children are best served by” is not supported by the now considerable research on the subject. And do you really think same-sex couples can never be good parents? What is so wrong with all options being considered, and a choice made between them based on what is in the best interests of the child?

    What is your opinion on everything else in the Bill?

  5. I am not in favour of same sex adoption.

    Mothers and fathers bring different approaches to raising children which flow from the different worldviews and psychological and spiritual makeup of men and women. I think children are best served by having both a mother and a father rather than two mothers or two fathers.

  6. Indeed, there are many informal adoptions. We don’t have any information about how many of those there are. It is likely that some of these are informal because the provisions of the Act are so archaic that people don’t want to use it. My prediction is that if my ill is passed into law, the number of legal adoptions will rise.

    Informal arrangements may work fine for some, but in other cases there is huge value to having a legal framework in place to ensure that rights and responsibilities, including those of children (who are in no place to protect themselves) are respected and enforced.

    One of the issues I am particularly interested in hearing views about is how the Bill should deal with whangai arrangements. The Bill says that whangai arrangements are permitted but regulated by local Iwi-specific procedures. There may be some Maori who want to see whangai more regulated by the State, but I am cautious about proposing that because I don’t want to make decisions for Maori about an important cultural practice. These are effectively a special form of the informal adoptions you have mentioned, and the position I have taken has been that by making legal adoption much closer in nature to what occurs in whangai (and I think informal adoptions more generally) more people will find the law meets their needs, but I have no wish to force everyone to use the law if it doesn’t work for them.

  7. Hi Kevin,

    I had a look at your FAQs, and it would appear that the total number of adoptions per year is in the order of several hundred (it wasn’t exactly clear to me if each category listed counted adoptions that also were in other categories).

    The relatively small number surprised me. I suspect that if you look at “informal” adoptions where children live with uncles, aunts, grand parents, other extended family and so on, you would find they are a lot more common than formal adoptions.

    So in a sense, maybe the practice of adoption has “modernised” by itself, without a law change? Indeed, it raises an interesting question: except in exceptional circumstances (and perhaps foreign adoptions), why are formal adoptions even needed?

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