Are there more barriers to adoption for same sex couples?

The introduction of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 saw the eligibility criteria for adoptive parents extended to unmarried and single people, which also included same sex couples. However, despite this expansion, same sex couples who wish to adopt may still encounter barriers, not least because of biased or negative attitudes of professionals within the adoption sector. This article discusses some of the issues same sex couples may experience, and looks at the case of a woman from Cambridge who, in the absence of a legal alternative, was forced to adopt her own child.

What problems may same sex couples encounter during the adoption process?

Generally, the arguments against same sex couples adopting tend to fall into two broad categories: that such adoptions are just plain wrong as a matter of principle, and second, they are not good for children. As a result, same-sex couples can face several challenges despite advancements in LGBTQ+ rights, where they still encounter many obstacles during their adoption journey.

One of the main issues is the presence of discriminatory attitudes and prejudices among adoption agencies or social workers. Although it is illegal to discriminate against prospective parents based on their sexual orientation, there have been cases where same-sex couples have experienced bias during the assessment process. This can manifest in subtle ways, such as unfavourable assumptions about parenting abilities or concerns about the child’s well-being in a same sex household. Adoption agencies are legally obliged to treat all prospective parents fairly, regardless of sexual orientation.

Another problem can arise from the limited availability of suitable adoption opportunities. Many prospective parents want to adopt babies or very young children, and where this is the case, parents generally exceed the number of children available for adoption. Of course, this issue affects all couples, but is a consideration as it can take many months and sometimes years to find a suitable match.

The adoption process itself can be complex and emotionally challenging for any couple. Same-sex couples may experience additional stress because of the need for legal documentation to establish both partners as legal parents and have to navigate other complexities surrounding parental rights and responsibilities. One woman’s case underlines these issues. Sarah Osborne from Cambridge was forced to go through a long legal battle to have herself named as her child’s legal parent.

Example: Cambridge woman had to adopt her own child

Due to a legal error, Sarah Osborne, who was in a same sex relationship, was refused permission to be named on her child’s birth certificate after the Cambridge registrar incorrectly informed her that “there could only be one mother”. The law in 2014 stated that same-sex female couples who have a child via IVF should be named on the child’s birth certificate. But when the couple went to register the birth, they were told unless Sarah was the father, her name could not be put on the birth certificate.

The family were then informed that for Sarah to be recognised as a parent, she would have to go through a step-parent adoption when the child was 6 months old. During the adoption process, Sarah had to complete criminal records checks and apply for a court order, which was granted in 2015. It wasn’t until the couple had a second child in 2018 that was registered without problem; they realised the birth registration of their first child was wrong. Following a further court case, the High Court revoked the adoption order, quashed the original birth certificate, and issued a new one reflecting the correct circumstances.

Overall, while progress has been made, it is crucial to address and mitigate the challenges that same-sex couples may encounter during the adoption process in order to ensure equal opportunities for all those wishing to adopt.


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