The Adoption Act dates from 1955, and is basically unamended from that period. It reflects the social views of the 1950s. In so many ways it has become hopelessly outdated, but despite a Law Commission report some 15 years ago recommending major change, Governments have been nervous to touch it. Many aspects of guardianship were amended in the last Labour Government’s Care of Children Act (strongly opposed by National at the time, but not changed by them in any major way since their return to Government). However, the Adoption Act was not amended in line with the new Act, for some strange reason, and an attempt to include adoption in the legislation around civil unions was defeated in Parliament.
The Act was originally mostly about “stranger adoption”, based on what has been called “the stain of illegitimacy”, so it is not surprising that much has changed since then, and the number of such adoptions has decreased dramatically. That is one reason cited by Governments unwilling to amend the law. Adoption was limited to married couples, although individuals could adopt. However, unmarried couples could not, and that of course included same-sex couples until every recently. Adoption basically replaces the biological parents with the adoptive ones.
In recent years, “step-parent adoption”, has increased considerably, whereby the step-parent of a child wishes to become the parent in place of the missing biological parent. However, the limitation to married couples caused even greater difficulties here, and in 2010, probably out of frustration at Parliament’s inactivity, the High Court allowed an unmarried step-parent to adopt. See here for details. However, this judgment really tended to confuse the issue even more. Even if all “step-parents” could adopt, they can only do so by totally removing one biological parent from the picture, which is not always a desired outcome.
Because same-sex couples could not adopt, RW has been pushing for reform for many years. The Greens tried to introduce a simple Bill just amending that detail, but Labour held that total reform of the Act was needed. That position was generally accepted, and the Greens tried to build a cross-party consensus. Labour then decreed that this was impossible to achieve and Jacinda Ardern introduced a Bill which involved going back to the Law Commission. This was drawn from the ballot, but because the Greens opposed it, never proceeded to First Reading. So we had a stalemate and, given the lack of interest from National Ministers of Justice for reform, nothing further happened, and we rather gave up pushing for reform on this issue. In any case, Marriage Equality meant that at least some same-sex couples could adopt, so the urgency for our communities was removed to some extent.
However, interest in general reform of the Act remains, and the recent development of a new cross-party group to deal with LGBTI issues, set up by Jan Logie, and strongly supported by RW (it contains several of our Vice-Patrons) raises the possibility that adoption law reform could be picked up again. It is certainly on the agenda of several members of that group, including the National Party MPs on it.
If and when the long-awaited reform of the 1955 Act occurs, RW will clearly wish to submit to the relevant Select Committee. This is one area where the loonies of the Religious Right will surely emerge from the woodwork to fight one further last battle, so a campaign to ensure that NZ has an Adoption Act which fits our 21st century society will clearly be needed.