Ruling puts spotlight on gay couples who want to start families

File photo of an adult palm holding the hand of a child. Singapore's Adoption of Children Act states that there should be "no payment or other reward in consideration of the adoption except such as the court may sanction".
File photo of an adult palm holding the hand of a child. Singapore's Adoption of Children Act states that there should be "no payment or other reward in consideration of the adoption except such as the court may sanction". PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES FILE

While the judge who turned down a gay doctor's application to adopt his biological child through surrogacy had said his sexual orientation was not a matter which was taken into account in her ruling, the case has thrown a spotlight on gay couples who try to set up a family here.

In her grounds of judgment, District Judge Shobha Nair made clear that the court was not ruling on what a family unit ought to be like or on what acceptable patterns of behaviour were.

Instead, the fact that the doctor paid the surrogate US$200,000 was the key reason why the adoption application was not allowed.

Singapore's Adoption of Children Act states that there should be "no payment or other reward in consideration of the adoption except such as the court may sanction".

But news of the case has led to discussions - online and offline - on gays who wish to have children and issues related to adoption and surrogacy.

Ms Olivia Chiong, 37, who runs Rainbow Parents SG, a support network for gay families in Singapore, says that she is in touch with over 50 gay couples who have kids.

They have to jump through various hoops in order to start their own families, she said. For example, while some of the children were biologically conceived, such as by a lesbian mother or surrogacy, others were adopted by those who had to hide their sexual orientation from welfare officers.

"Some of them would go to lengths to erase all signs of their partners from their apartments and lives," she said.

"It's easier to lie about who you are for a short while if it means you can have a child - it is a lot cheaper than surrogacy, for a start."

As a matter of policy, the Ministry of Social and Family Development, which oversees adoptions, encourages only parenthood in the context of marriage.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Matthews said the topic of gay families remains a sensitive one in Singapore.

He cited a 2012 Institute of Policy Studies survey where about 60 per cent of respondents said it was wrong for a gay couple to adopt a child, while about 70 per cent found pregnancy outside marriage wrong.

"It is evident that the majority of Singaporeans still seem to hold to fairly conservative views about marriage and family formation," he said.

"They extol the 'traditional' definition of a family unit, even though more and more Singaporeans may be aware that there are other forms of family arrangement present."

Rachel Au-Yong

Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2017, with the headline 'Ruling puts spotlight on gay couples who want to start families'. Print Edition | Subscribe