Poll: Majority would upgrade parental rights of same-sex partners
A majority of Finns favour allowing the surviving partner of a registered civil union of same-sex couples to retain custody of a deceased parner's biological child.
According to the results of a survey conducted by the market research organisation Taloustutkimus and commissioned by the Finnish gay rights organisation SETA, 80 per cent of Finns would approve of such a legal reform.
Nowadays, district courts rule on a case-by-case basis 0n whether or not a child can stay with his or her "social parent" - that is, the one that is not the biological mother or father.
On the practical level, courts generally grant custody to the surviving partner.
Juha Jämsä, project coordinator of SETA’s "rainbow family" activities says that he does not know of any cases in which a court would have deviated from the practice.
He takes one typical example from a few years back. At that time, the mother of one child died, and her female partner sought custody.
"The result was a positive one: the court felt that it was in the best interest of the child to live with the social parent, and it confirmed the adoption", Jämsä says.
However, the child had to live for four months as a complete orphan. Jämsä notes that the child’s life would not have been overshadowed by uncertainty if an adoption within the family would have been possible.
A task force of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health proposed legislation in 2003 that would have permitted such adoptions. However, Liisa Hyssälä (Centre), the Minister of Social Affairs and Health, did not act on the proposal.
"After that, nothing has happened, even though there were many recommendations in the memorandum of the working group", said SETA Secretary-General Aija Suosalo.
"However, now I am very optimistic, because according to a candidate selection machine, a clear majority of Members of Parliament now are in favour of the right to adoption within a family.
The Child Affairs Ombudsman has also noted that the children of same-sex parents are in an unequal position compared with those of male-female partnerships.
One of the proposals of the 2003 task force was implemented when Parliament decided last year to allow couples in same-sex relationships to share parental leave.
However, the right to paternity leave was not granted to the social parent.
Salo feels that the greatest practical implication of adoption within the family is that it would recognise the child as a legal relative of his or her de facto parent, entitled to economic support.
The rights of a child with respect to the social parent are also weaker than toward the legal parent in matters such as custody disputes and visitation rights.
"When only one of the parents is the legal parent, in a separation situation, visitation by the social parent can be dictated completely by the legal parent", Juha Jämsä says.
Sometimes parents draw up signed agreements on custody and visitation issues in case of a separation. However, such contracts are not binding on local courts.