SINGAPORE: The Ministry for Social and Family Development (MSF) is reviewing adoption laws and practices in order that they can be "strengthened to better reflect public policy", following the High Court's ruling to allow a gay Singaporean father to adopt his biological son.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday (Jan 14), Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said that there needs to be an "appropriate balance" struck when weighing up the welfare of a child against "important public policy considerations" during adoption proceedings.
"Following the Court’s judgment, MSF is reviewing our adoption laws and practices to see how they should be strengthened to better reflect public policy, which in turn is a reflection of the values of our broad society today," said Mr Lee.
"For instance, while the welfare of the child should always be a very important consideration in adoption proceedings, we are looking at whether the Adoption of Children Act needs to be amended so that an appropriate balance can be struck when important public policy considerations are involved," he added.
This comes after a landmark court ruling on Dec 17 last year where a 46-year-old pathologist won the right to adopt his five-year-old biological son who was born via a surrogate in the United States.
The man has been dating his same-sex partner since 1998. The couple - both Singapore citizens - began cohabiting in 2003 and currently reside with the child and a domestic helper in a condominium, according to court documents.
The couple had initially wanted to adopt but were advised by agencies that their sexual orientation would hinder success. They then travelled to the US and paid about US$200,000 for a woman to carry and deliver a baby through in-vitro fertilisation and then hand the child over.
The child, a US citizen, has been brought up in Singapore by the couple in the same household, and the man later applied to Court to adopt the child. In December 2017, the Family Justice Court ruled against the adoption.
The applicant appealed to the High Court and in December last year, the High Court allowed the adoption to proceed.
While the Government’s policy is not to interfere with the private lives of Singaporeans, including homosexuals, Mr Lee said that MSF does not support "the formation of family units with children and homosexual parents, through institutions and processes such as adoption".
"LGBT persons have a place here in Singapore, and are entitled to their own private lives. Just like other Singaporeans, they have access to opportunities and social support such as education, employment, and healthcare, and should, like all Singaporeans, not be subject to prejudice and discrimination," said Mr Lee.
"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."
Mr Lee added that an adoption order on its own does not "guarantee" benefits and privileges such as citizenship, education or housing, even though it serves to make a child legitimate under the law.
"Access to housing will continue to be determined by prevailing criteria, in line with public policy supporting parenthood within marriage," he said. "All Singaporean children, regardless of their legitimacy status, will receive Government benefits that support their growth and development, including healthcare and education benefits."
The MSF is also studying the issue of surrogacy, said Mr Lee, in response to a question from Member of Parliament Christopher de Souza on whether the MSF will ban commercial surrogacy in Singapore.
"This is a complex issue with ethical, social, health and legal implications for all parties involved," said the minister. "For commercial surrogacy in particular, concerns have been raised about the exploitation of women and commodification of children. These issues are not trivial, and warrant careful study and discussion."
Currently, surrogacy cannot be carried out in Singapore at any licensed healthcare institution that provides assisted reproduction services and parents who have gone overseas for surrogacy and return to apply for adoption of their surrogate children will have their applications assessed on a "case-by-case basis", added Mr Lee.