Justice and Equality for our children of LGBT parents please

A couple of hours ago, I got news out of Singapore that made me jump out of bed at 4 am to get on my laptop and write a blog post. This news makes me so angry with how Singapore continues to blatantly discriminate against LGBT parents and their children while waving around the so called “family values”.

You can read about the news here: Singapore court rejects bid by gay man to adopt child he fathered through surrogacy.

I was fortunate enough to get a copy of the decision brief and here are the important highlights, with my own indignant comments.

The judge starts off pretty nicely and recognises that it is in human nature to want to have children and even states that “to raise a child” is “one of the most meaningful of human experiences.”

Then she proceeds to list the facts against the case.

This first fact already shows how much is wrong with the current situation in Singapore.

First of all, this case is definitely different from most adoption cases as the applicant (who I shall refer to as James because these are real people we are talking about, not figments of our imagination) is the actual biological father of the child (who I shall refer to as Noel) HOW MANY ADOPTION CASES DO YOU SEE IN SINGAPORE WHERE THE APPLICANT IS THE ACTUAL BIOLOGICAL PARENT? That first line is already so so so wrong. Yes, the intention to adopt is because he loves children and has been in a loving and committed relationship with his partner (who I shall refer to as Shawn) for 13 years. However, it is not his intention to adopt a random child. This is his biological child who I am sure was conceived after much thought and planning. Because gay people do not have children on a whim. It comes after much planning and saving because let’s face it, surrogacy is not cheap.

Secondly, once again I am reminded that women are second class citizens in Singapore. Honestly, why is a woman’s right to assisted reproduction reserved only for “married women with the consent of her spouse”? If a woman wants to have a child and has the means to afford it, why can’t she have a child? After all, it is “one of the most meaningful of human experiences” and we are depriving people of this experience by simple virtue of them not finding the right person to parent with? What kind of logic is that? But I digress. This post is not about womens’ rights. It is about the rights of a child and his loving parents.

The second point of her brief states:

Key points to note:

  1. The choice to use an anonymous egg donor is the choice of James and Shawn. Plenty of people around the world chose anonymous sperm or egg donors and in fact, open donors only became an option in recent years.
  2. James and Shawn did not take up adoption proceedings by choice. They have to do so as Noel would not be granted Singapore citizenship since he is considered an illegitimate child. Given that Noel is a US citizen, Noel would have to leave Singapore every 90 days to get a new entry visa. Wouldn’t you want to get Singapore citizenship if your child has no rights to live in Singapore?

I will share why these facts are important later in this post.

The following points are from the Platform of the Decision:

Thank you for recognising that the Adoption of Children Act does not specifically address a case such as this one. However, would it have made a difference if James and Shawn were married? No, because as stated above, same gender marriages are not yet legal in Singapore and so for all intents and purposes, even if James and Shawn were married overseas, it would not be relevant. So given that this is the first case of its kind in Singapore, any decision made by judge Shobha Nair would be setting the precedent. Again this is an important point to note.

She continues to elaborate on how the Adoption act is being interpreted in this case.

The surrogate is NOT the biological parent of Noel, but was instead the gestational vehicle. The money was definitely NOT used “to encourage the movement of life from one hand to another” but was more payment as part of the surrogacy contract. While there are no laws to govern surrogacy in Singapore, laws have been established in the US for some time. The laws in US protect surrogates by ensuring that surrogacy is done with all legal and financial aspects are taken care of.  There are definitely fees involved to pay the surrogate for having to carry the pregnancy to term, not forgetting all the medical fees during pregnancy and childbirth. A sum of US$200,00 may seem like a lot, but when you consider you have to also pay for legal fees and all the other additional expenses, I think that doesn’t seem like a lot. Also the laws in US ensure that the payments are not made to the surrogate to entice them to sell the child. It is more reimbursement for the inconvenience they have to go through for 10 months. This was not a totally unrelated person buying a child. This is a biological parent getting help to have a child.

 

But it is. Because everything about this case highlights the challenges facing people in same gender relationships who wish to have children. How we are deprived of “one of the most meaningful of human experiences.”  James and Shawn cannot “form a lawfully recognised family unit” because they can’t even get married. While they are raising Noel as an informal family unit, Shawn has no legal claim on Noel because the laws in Singapore don’t allow for it. Even James is struggling to get legal rights as we can see in the decision on this case. How can Judge Shobha Nair pretend otherwise when this case has set the precedent for future cases?

“The law mirrors the morality and wishes of the majority of Singaporeans” The last I checked, we haven’t done any referendum on same gender parenting in Singapore. While it is true that this is not the sole basis on which this decision was made, I think its fair to take into consideration how this ruling will affect similar future cases.

Yes, it is an attempt to formalise the parent-child relationship. However, this attempt wouldn’t even be needed if the law would just recognise that Noel is the child of James and it is Noel’s birthright to be a Singaporean. Instead of having enter and exit Singapore every 90 days or to continually apply for Long Term Visit Pass, Noel should automatically be allowed to live in Singapore as he is the biological child of James.

I disagree with her assessment based on a number of points:

  1. The “right to know his mother” is irrelevant in this case as that is not his mother. It is simply the egg donor. A mother is someone who is a parent to the child. In this case, the egg donor gave away the egg with clear understanding that any child resulting from the egg is not hers. She has no wish to have a relationship with the child or she would have chosen to be an open egg donor. It is the choice of James and Shawn to be the only parents that Noel knows and I believe other parents in Singapore who have opted for egg or sperm donors will agree that this is a deeply personal choice. It does not mean that the donor is automatically deemed a parent of the resulting child and I find it insulting that the Judge even brought up this point.
  2. While the adoption order would not be the sole reason for ICA to consider allowing Singapore citizenship for the child, it would obviously be an important factor.
  3. Being a Singapore citizen is important for Noel as it unlocks educational opportunities for him in Singapore. Without Singapore citizenship, he is subject to the insane primary school system that randomly allocates none citizens/PRs to an available school that may or may not be geographically near his home. It also subjects Noel to higher school fees and excludes him from other benefits such as Edusave.
  4. Just because his parents are relatively well off and can financially support the child should not be a reason why Noel is considered to be unsuitable for adoption.
  5. The fact that this adoption has been denied simply is against the welfare of the child.

This ignores the fact that James IS the biological parent of the child and probably fully intends to share with Noel how he was conceived out of love. This is not about providing for Noel financially. This is about Noel being given a place in Singapore. The only home he has ever known and the place where his parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins live, play and love. The difficult circumstances only exists because Singapore refuses to recognise that the world is changing and that family units are no longer simply the cookie cutter model of the past. This is allowing a child to be equal in the eyes of his peers and not set apart because of bureaucratic red tape.

Every parent wants the best for their child. Given that Noel will be third class citizen in Singapore, of course I imagine James and Shawn will have to consider moving overseas if Noel is not granted Singapore citizenship. The facts are simple – Noel will not have access to the same level and quality of education as a Singaporean in Singapore. Therefore putting him at a disadvantage. James and Shawn will have to choose to move away, taking their considerable talents with them. In a time when Singapore government seeks to address the talent drain in Singapore, this is an obviously undesirable outcome. On top of that, Noel would have to be taken away from the only home he has ever known and move away from his grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins because of this discrimination. How can the court consider this not against his interest? For all the “family values” it tries to promote, the act of denying this adoption order is the act of denying a child his family. He will not be able to experience what it means to be a real Singaporean, even when both his parents are born and bred Singaporeans. There will be no singing of the National Anthem or reciting of the National Pledge. He will be an outsider in his own country. He will never experience the joys of National Service. He will always be an outsider looking in.

I cannot believe that the court can look at all this and still consider that it is in the best interest of Noel for the adoption petition to be denied.

If you are interested in it, you can read the full document here: Brief Grounds of Decision – 26.12.2017

This decision is absolutely appalling. I hope James and Shawn consider appealing the decision as it is important that Noel be given his birthright. This also strongly highlights the many challenges we face as parents in a country where we and our children are considered second or even third class citizens. We are denied “one of the most meaningful of human experiences” by simple virtue of the fact we are LGBTQ. It is time for things to change. There should be “justice and equality” for all, especially our children.