In 2017 the Public Policy Research Portal at Columbia Law School reviewed 79 studies that investigated the wellbeing of children raised by gay or lesbian parents and concluded “this research forms an overwhelming scholarly consensus, based on over three decades of peer-reviewed research, that having a gay or lesbian parent does not harm children”.
Similar research in Australia conducted around the time of the 2017 postal survey on marriage equality, found that, “It is family processes (eg, parenting quality, parental wellbeing, the quality of and satisfaction with relationships within the family), rather than family structures (eg, the number, gender, sexuality or cohabitation arrangements of parents), that make a more meaningful difference to children’s wellbeing and positive development.”
Professor Gerber says, “What negatively impacts children is being subjected (or seeing their parents/family subjected) to homophobia, discrimination and stigma. Thus, in order to ensure children in contemporary families do well, we need to ensure that they are not subjected to prejudice or harm based on the sexual orientation or gender identity of their parents.
“Unfortunately during the marriage equality postal survey process, we did see many hurtful attacks on rainbow families.”
Professor Gerber says that in considering what law reform is required to recognise and respect a diversity of family structures, decisions must be informed by the principles set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
She says decisions must be made taking into account the best interests of the child and the rights of children not to be discriminated against, including on the basis of who their parents are.
“If all law reform is informed by internationally recognised human rights law, we will be ensuring the best start in life for all children, regardless of their family structure,” says Professor Gerber.
She suggests four important changes to ensure Australia is meeting its human rights obligations:
Birth Certificate changes
Allow more than two parents to be recorded on a child's birth certificate. Same-sex couples are increasingly using IVF or alternative insemination and surrogacy to form families with known donors. In Canada, the state of British Columbia has legislated to allow more than two parents to be recorded on a child’s birth certificate.
Donor Sibling Registry
Set up a national register that allows donor siblings to connect with each other. A quest for knowledge about diblings was the catalyst for the development of the Donor Sibling Registry in the US, in 2000. That there are over 57,000 members from around the world on this registry is testament to the strong demand for such connections.
Allow and properly regulate compensated surrogacy in Australia so that couples don't have to go offshore to start their families.
Remove exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation for religious organisations. Currently, religious organisations, such as schools, can discriminate against a student or staff member because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 provides exemptions from the prohibition on discrimination for religious bodies under section 37 and for the employment of staff by educational institutions established for religious purposes under section 38 “to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion”.
Professor Gerber says marriage equality has been a major step forward in recognising and respecting rainbow families. But further changes – to both the law and societal attitudes – are needed before children in diverse family structures are able to grow up free from discrimination and inequality.