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Australia: New South Wales Government Responds to Report on Same-Sex Adoption Laws

(Jan. 14, 2010) On January 6, 2009, the government of New South Wales (NSW), Australia, released a letter in response to a parliamentary report that had recommended changing the law to allow same-sex couples to adopt children. In the letter, the Minister of Community Services, Linda Burney, indicated that, while the recommendation was “not without merit,” the government will not be putting forward amendments to the law at this time. “[T]his is a complex and sensitive issue that tests deeply held personal values and beliefs; therefore it is important for the government to continue to listen to the views of the wider community before deciding upon a final policy position,” she said. (Letter from Linda Burney, Minister of Community Services, to Rachel Callahan, Director, Standing Committee, Legislative Council (Jan. 6, 2010), available at

Adoption law in Australia is established by each state or territory. Currently the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia allow same-sex couples to adopt, and same-sex step-parent adoption rights are provided for in Tasmania. Victoria, Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia, and NSW do not allow such adoptions. Same-sex couples are able to be foster parents in every jurisdiction. (Standing Committee on Law and Justice, Adoption by Same-Sex Couples 17-21 (July 8, 2009), available at
.) The NSW legislation currently allows gay and lesbian individuals to adopt children. (Id.,at6.)

In November 2008, the state government asked the NSW parliament's Standing Committee on Law and Justice to hold an inquiry into whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to adopt children. The Committee received submissions from 341 individuals and groups and released its report in July 2009. (Id.,atxi.) The majority of the Committee (4:2) recommended that the definitions of “couple” and “de facto relationship” in the legislation should be amended to include same-sex couples in order to “protect children's rights and help to ensure children's best interests.” (Id., atx.) It also recommended an exemption for faith-based adoption agencies, to be accompanied by a requirement for such agencies to refer same-sex couples to another agency that would assist them. (Id.)

The government's decision not to amend the law was met with criticism from gay rights groups and youth advocates. On the other hand, Christian groups welcomed the decision. (Same-Sex Adoption Move 'Discriminatory,' Sydney Morning Herald, Jan. 7, 2010, available at
.) Some commentators renewed calls for adoption laws to be set at the federal level to ensure consistency and allow for a national debate on the issues. (Emily Bourke, Gay Adoption Inaction Riles Rights Groups, ABC NEWS, Jan. 8, 2010, available at