Gay adoption breaks new ground Margaret Philp Published July 9, Updated April 12, Jared Farrell-Smagata is crying, hot tears drenching his cherubic cheeks and an ear-splitting wail erupting through quivering lips.
Smagata sheepishly, clearly disappointed in his sudden status as the second-string parent. Story continues below advertisement These two men would be typical first-time parents anxiously treading across the uncharted ground of diapers, baby bottles and nap times were they not, as a gay couple, about as far from typical as any two parents in Canada could be. Partners for the past decade, Mr. Farrell, 35, and Mr. Smagata, 36, became the first same-sex couple to adopt a child jointly from the Children's Aid Society in Toronto -- and one of the first to do so anywhere in Canada -- when Jared crossed the doorstep of their Toronto house as a nine-month-old baby last year.
And to find out it could be realized again was really exciting. At a time when same-sex partners in Canada are still denied the legal right to marry, gay and lesbian couples are winning the right to become parents through adoption in a growing number of provinces. They are a new twist on the old school-yard chant: Story continues below advertisement Story continues below advertisement "Marriage is the last frontier [for gays and lesbians]" said Laurie Pawlitza, a family lawyer who argued a groundbreaking Ontario case six years ago that allowed gays and lesbians to adopt their partners' children.
Marriage is the one that I think is going to be more bitterly fought, because it involves religion. A turning point was a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision two years ago in the case of a lesbian suing her former partner for support after the break-up of their long-standing relationship that found an Ontario law limiting spousal support to opposite-sex couples unconstitutional.
Since that ruling, many provinces have passed omnibus bills rewriting a slew of laws to treat same-sex couples the same as opposite-sex spouses, although a few provinces deliberately left adoption provisions out of the mix. In conservative Alberta where traditional family values reign, the law was changed after the Supreme Court ruling to allow same-sex partners to adopt jointly as heterosexual couples do.
But a spokeswoman for the province's Ministry of Children's Services said the Klein government opposes same-sex adoption nonetheless, and the few cases on the books have involved a step-parent adopting their homosexual partner's child. In Manitoba, an omnibus bill introduced in May to rewrite legislation to reflect the rights for same-sex couples won in the Supreme Court decision sidestepped the province's adoption laws.
After clamorous protests outside the legislature in the days that followed, the Justice Minister appointed a judge and lawyer two weeks ago to study the issue of same-sex adoption and produce a report by the end of the year that could be the guts of a new bill. In Ontario, when Mr. Smagata first knocked on the Children's Aid Society's door nearly two years ago eager to adopt a boy or girl under 2, the law allowed only same-sex adoption of step-children so the two men would have to choose who would become their adopted child's father.
But last year, just as Jared was sweeping into their lives, the law in Ontario was changed to allow same-sex couples to adopt jointly. Both would become fathers to their son at the same time, as any other parents would. A big relief," Mr. Farrell said, "because when they asked us about our ideal child, we said, 'A child nine or 10 months who's really cute and precocious and sleeps well at night'. And we got him. He's all of that. Farrell, an elementary school teacher, was in the classroom when the call came from Mr.
Smagata that they were fathers. They knew they wanted to adopt Jared even before they saw his photograph, just by the glowing description of the happy, healthy, busy baby provided by the social worker over the telephone.
But they had to wait long, agonizing weeks for CAS social workers to choose the most suitable home for the nine-month-old among a handful of families vying for him. Urgently called down to the school's office, Mr. Farrell feared someone in his family had died. Smagata beamed into the telephone when he picked up the receiver. Farrell asked, incredulous, before dissolving into tears.
And now, the two men who told each other they wanted children on the day they met a decade ago are the proud fathers of a rambunctious, car-addicted boy and they fret and fuss over their son and his stages of development -- both mention that he only has a few words -- like all new parents.
Farrell, who speaks only French to Jared, is "Papa. Farrell picks Jared up from daycare during the school year, and is home with him over the summer holiday. Smagata often tucks him into bed. Both marvel that, as rare as two fathers still may be, no one but a few aging relatives has raised the slightest objection to their unorthodox family. But same-sex adoption is still on the fringe. Toronto's CAS has placed a total of nine children in six gay or lesbian homes and only one other adoption has involved a same-sex couple adopting their child together.
But a third is almost done, and it was a rare case where the birth mother chose the same-sex parents over all others. Smagata can hardly wait to return to the CAS in the fall to start the process over again to adopt a second child.