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A bill to allow same-sex couples in the state of New South Wales, Australia, to adopt will prevent children in such families from being treated like second-class citizens, state parliament has heard.
The historic bill being debated on Wednesday was about recognising the estimated 1300 children either being reared by same-sex foster couples or the child of a partner, said the bill's architect, independent MP Clover Moore.
"It's about giving legal recognition to the vital relationship that children have with their parents regardless of their parents' sexuality," Ms Moore said.
"The law needs to catch up with the social reality that some children are already parented by same-sex couples and that the law should provide legal protection for those children."
The same-sex adoption bill was introduced to parliament by Ms Moore, after amendments had been made.
The amendments, which Ms Moore said she made "against her strong belief", will give church adoption agencies the right to refuse services to gay and lesbian couples without breaching anti-discrimination laws.
Ms Moore said she was disappointed faith-based organisations did not support the bill.
The government and the opposition have agreed to allow their members a conscience vote on the legislation.
NSW Community Services Minister Linda Burney said it made no sense that single gays were allowed to adopt a child while gay couples were not.
"We need to recognise the diversity of families across the community," she said during the debate, which is expected to run until about 9pm.
"Gay and lesbian couples do have and will continue to have the care for children and be parents of children.
"We cannot allow the children of these families to be treated like second-class citizens.
"Evidence shows gay and lesbian couples have the same parenting qualities as heterosexual parents.
"They are in fact boringly normal."
Known adoptions, where a couple adopt a foster child, or a parent adopts the child of his or her partner, are by far the most common in NSW, she said.
Overseas adoptions will not be affected by the bill, as none of the countries Australia has agreements with allows same-sex adoptions, she added.
"When it comes to local adoptions, the preferences of biological parents are an important factor in the assessment of potential adoptive parents."
Only about 20 local adoptions took place in NSW last year, she said.
NSW Opposition community services spokeswoman Pru Goward said she supported the bill but with mixed feelings.
"I do not see this debate as at all about the rights of same-sex people," she said.
Instead, it was entirely about the rights of the child.
"We have long since accepted that the interests of the child come first," Ms Goward said.
That included allowing children to grow up in a loving and safe atmosphere, regardless of the sexuality of their parents, she said.
Debate was continuing, with Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell expected to speak to the bill on Thursday.
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