The judgement overturned a 2017 decision rejecting the man’s bid to adopt his now five year old son, who was born in the United States using in-vitro fertilisation procedures.
The man, an unnamed 46 year old pathologist, has lived with his long-term partner for 13 years. The pair were informed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development they would be unable to adopt a child in Singapore due to their sexuality.
Assisted reproduction in Singapore is only allowed for married women with the consent of her husband. While IVF is not criminalised the Ministry of Health prohibits it, which is why the couple chose to pursue other options overseas.
They paid US$200,000 in total in order for their son to be born in the US, including medical costs and a US$25,000 fee for the surrogate.
As his biological child the man was allowed to bring his son to Singapore, but an attempt to gain citizenship for the boy was rejected in 2014. It was then the man began the adoption process, but the application was rejected.
“Our decision was reached through an application of the law as we understood it to be, and not on the basis of our sympathies for the position of either party,” wrote Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in the High Court decision, on behalf of the three-judge panel.
“On balance, it seems appropriate that we attribute significant weight to the concern not to violate public policy against the formation of same-sex family units on account of its rational connection to the present dispute and the degree to which this policy would be violated should an adoption order be made,” Menon continued.
However, the decision concluded that argument was not “sufficiently powerful to enable us to ignore the statutory imperative to promote the welfare of the child, and, indeed, to regard his welfare as first and paramount.”
The court decided that the child would have a better chance of gaining Singaporean citizenship, which would provide a much more stable environment in the long run, if he were adopted by a Singaporean parent.
“This is important because family is important no matter the orientation of the parent, and family is the cradle of society,” said Koh Tien Hua, the man’s lawyer, in response to the ruling.
“This judgment recognises the important role of the family in the child’s life and found that an adoption order would be for the child’s welfare.”
This is the first example of an openly gay man in a same-sex relationship being granted the right to adopt in Singapore, where attitudes towards LGBTI people are still largely conservative.
Gay sex is currently criminalised in Singapore due to a discriminatory law introduced in 1938 when Singapore was a British colony, although it is rarely but sometimes still enforced. Earlier this year 109,000 people signed a petition to retain the law, more than twice the number on a petition calling for it to be struck down.
The ruling has been praised by the LGBTI community in Singapore, according to SBS News.
“LGBT families are families too, and they are just as able to provide a loving and caring home to raise their children in,” said Paerin Choa, of Singaporean gay rights group Pink Dot SG.
Meanwhile Jean Chong, from lesbian advocacy group Sayoni, called the ruling “baby steps” in the overall fight for LGBTI rights in Singapore.