Equality Australia has slammed a “disgraceful” move by adoption provider Anglicare Sydney to refuse to consider placing an Aboriginal baby in the care of her maternal aunt because she’s in a same-sex relationship.
The case, currently before the Children’s Court of New South Wales, came to light in a Guardian Australia report on Tuesday.
Children’s court magistrate Tracy Sheedy criticised Anglicare as well as the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) after a nine-month-old girl’s aunt wasn’t assessed as her carer “as per the agency’s policy on same-sex couples”. Anglicare sought to have the baby, who has complex needs, adopted to a non-Indigenous couple instead, the court heard.
Judge Sheedy said the child’s foster parents had done “a wonderful job” caring for her. However, she said Anglicare and DCJ’s conduct “alarmed” and “disturbed” her.
“No explanation was offered as to why DCJ had filed the care plan proposing the Anglicare carers as the permanent placement for the child, knowing that a close family member had not been assessed, for the sole reason that she was in a same-sex relationship,” Sheedy said in a ruling.
The magistrate added “the application of [Anglicare’s] policy could lead to decisions being made that are contrary to the best interests of children”.
The case is still before the children’s court.
‘Out of line with community expectations’
However, Equality Australia has accused the provider of “disgraceful” conduct and warned the case exposes a “legal loophole” in New South Wales.
The state is one of several in Australia to allow faith-based service providers and religious schools to discriminate against students, staff and people who rely on their services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, Equality Australia’s legal director Ghassan Kassisieh said.
“It is disgraceful that Anglicare would put discrimination before considering the interests of a child in remaining connected to their First Nations’ culture and community,” Mr Kassisieh said.
He said Anglicare’s policy, as stated on its website, was to refuse to assess same-sex couples to be adoptive parents.
“Especially when a service provider is effectively acting as an agent of the government, they should not be allowed to legally discriminate on the basis of someone’s sexuality,” he said.
“This is clearly out of line with community expectations in 2024.
“We cannot have a situation where the laws in NSW allow the lives and wellbeing of children to be jeopardised by the outdated prejudice of a faith-based service provider contracted by government.”
An Anglicare Sydney spokesperson declined to comment on the specific case. The spokesperson said Anglicare Sydney is a “Christian not-for-profit that serves in accordance with the doctrines of the Anglican diocese of Sydney, which believe the best interests of the child are best served by giving access to both mothering and fathering, wherever possible.”
“Anglicare Sydney remains committed to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child and young person placement principles,” the spokesperson said.
Urgent need for Greenwich Equality Bill in NSW
Mr Kassisieh said the specific legal exemption is one that Independent MP Alex Greenwich’s omnibus Equality Bill seeks to remove. That legislation is still currently before the NSW parliament.
“Everyone should be judged on their merits, not their sexuality or gender identity. The prejudice of a provider cannot have precedence over considerations regarding the best interests of the child,” he said.
“It is cases like this that prove the urgency of the reforms [within the] Equality Bill.”
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