Saturday, March 28, 2009

2 Mums and a Dad...and the law in Australia

I've been in Australia for more than a month now, on a Fulbright Specialist grant, teaching, lecturing, conferring, etc at two universities -- University of Technology Sydney and University of Melbourne. Of all my duties here, one of the most fun was my participation today on a panel after a screening of the film 2 Mums and a Dad. Australian filmmaker Miranda Wills followed a lesbian couple and the man they choose as a semen donor/father for 18 months, during which time they planned for and had a child, negotiated and renegotiated their parenting arrangements, and went through many highs and lows.

This is not a how-to-do-it movie. And it is not a feel-good movie. It's the real story of real people, and it isn't always pretty. At the end of the movie, when Darren is upset about the restraints on his time with the baby, Marley, he tells the camera that his "trump card" is the desire of the two women to have another child with him. He figures that's the way he can get what he wants with Marley. I've rarely seen any behavior so unflattering in a parent.

I was pleased -- and more than a little surprised -- to learn from the filmmaker at the Q and A after the film that the three adults did, in fact, resolve their issues well and have another baby.

When the film was made, Darren would have been recognized as the child's father, and the nonbio mom would not have been a parent. But massive law reform in Australia has changed all that. Now a child born to a lesbian couple using donor insemination is the child of the two women and not of the donor. And the law is retroactive. A whole lot of children now have two moms -- even if the moms have since separated. All that's required is that the nonbio mom consented to the bio mom's insemination while the couple was together.

With this law reform, Australia joins a number of Canadian provinces in recognizing a child's two mothers from birth. No adoption required.

What about the donor? Well, in Australian law a person who is not a parent can still obtain a court order for access to a child if the person has a significant relationship with the child. So Darren would qualify (as did nonbio moms before the new law reform turned them into legal parents.) In other words, not being a legal parent doesn't leave a person who functions as a parent entirely at the whim of the legal parent, as so many US states do.

Four Australian lawyers spoke on the panel after the film, explaining the new laws. Two of the four are also parents -- both in four-parent families consisting of both a lesbian and a gay couple. One has a newborn, but the other has a seven-year-old. And that's a seven-year-old with four parents who work well together. But the law only recognizes two of them as parents.

In the US there have been a few third-parent adoptions. Those are adoptions that create a second legal mom for a child while leaving a semen donor with parental rights. Before we can figure out how best to protect the parent-child relationships in all our families, we in the US need to get the basic family form -- a lesbian couple who plans for and has a child as two moms -- recognized in American law. And a second-parent adoption shouldn't be required. Because a parent shouldn't have to adopt her own child. A husband doesn't have to adopt the child his wife gives birth to using donor insemination, and a lesbian couple shouldn't have to go through that process either.

The Australians have beaten us to it. Let's learn from them.

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