Parliament: Singapore to review adoption law and look into surrogacy issue

Last month, the High Court, in a landmark case, allowed a gay man, who lives with his partner, to adopt a child whom he had fathered in the United States through a surrogate mother.
Last month, the High Court, in a landmark case, allowed a gay man, who lives with his partner, to adopt a child whom he had fathered in the United States through a surrogate mother.ST FILE PHOTO

Focus will be on strengthening adoption Act to better reflect public policy - which in turn reflects values of broad society

Singapore is reviewing the adoption law and looking into the issue of surrogacy, following a recent landmark case involving a gay father adopting his biological child who was conceived through a surrogate in the United States.

Even so, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee stressed again the Government's position on same-sex parenthood, saying it does not support the formation of families by gay parents.

Mr Lee was responding to three MPs in Parliament yesterday, who had raised questions about last month's High Court decision to grant the gay man's appeal to adopt his son.

Some celebrated the ruling as a mark of progress for the gay community, while others pointed out that it goes against what constitutes a family. Yet others felt that the laws surrounding surrogacy were unclear, and wondered if the man had exploited a loophole to legally adopt his child.

Today, surrogacy is barred in Singapore. Parents who have gone abroad for it and returned home to apply for adoption of their surrogate children will have their applications assessed on a case-by-case basis. To date, the courts have granted the adoption of 10 children to married couples who used surrogacy because of infertility issues.

But surrogacy, Mr Lee said, "is a complex issue with ethical, social, health and legal implications for all parties involved''.

Pinpointing commercial surrogacy, he noted concerns about the exploitation of women and commodification of children. These are not trivial and warrant careful study, he added.

Meanwhile, he issued this note of caution: "Persons who are considering surrogacy should take this into account from the outset while making their decision, as such factors could have a significant impact on the child."

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), in response to the speech, urged the authorities to bar surrogacy explicitly.

While acknowledging the concerns, Mr Lee said the authorities will also "(keep) in mind the wishes, aspirations and concerns of mothers who would otherwise not be able to conceive their own flesh and blood".

In reviewing the Adoption of Children Act, the focus is on how they can be "strengthened to better reflect public policy, which is, in turn, a reflection of the values of our broad society today", Mr Lee said.

 
 
 
 

The "prevailing social norm", he noted, is still that of a man and woman marrying, and raising children in a stable family unit.

While the child's welfare is important, his ministry is looking into whether changes are needed "so that an appropriate balance can be struck when important public policy considerations are involved".

Mr Lee noted that the boy, aged five, is not stateless but is a US citizen being raised by the dad and his partner in the same home.

Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) asked Mr Lee if his ministry would be involved in keeping an eye on the psychological and mental well-being of the boy.

Mr Lee replied: "We are concerned about the formation and mainstreaming of same-sex parent family units in Singapore, but when it comes to the welfare of the child, we have to act on the basis of whether there are concerns."

In spelling out the official position, Mr Lee reiterated that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have a place in Singapore society and are entitled to their own private lives.

"However, we must be mindful that a push for rights and entitlements which broader society is not ready for, or able to accept, will provoke a pushback, and can be very socially divisive.

"A push to use legislation or the courts to precipitate social change involving issues as deeply held and personal as this polarises society."

He stressed: "We do not support the formation of family units with children and homosexual parents through institutions and processes such as adoption."

With the "prevailing social norm" being that of a married man and woman bringing up children in a stable family unit, it follows that "the Government does not encourage planned and deliberate single parenthood as a lifestyle choice".

Referring to the case, Mr Lee said adoption does not guarantee benefits like citizenship. Access to housing, for instance, will be decided by prevailing criteria, in line with public policy supporting parenthood within marriage. But, he added: "All Singaporean children, regardless of their legitimacy status, will receive government benefits that support their growth and development, including healthcare and education benefits."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2019, with the headline 'S'pore to review adoption law and look into surrogacy issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe