Maternity and paternity rights for gay couples
The government’s bill to legalise gay marriage in the UK received royal approval last Wednesday. The Queen’s Assent was the last step needed to ensure the bill becomes law and was a momentous moment in the country’s history. This is a huge step towards the equality that campaigners have long been championing. With this legal right now passed by the government and head of state, it’s expected that same-sex marriages will begin to take place by next summer.
For a long time prior to this moment, gay marriage has largely been accepted in the UK as an individual right – even the Church of England no longer opposes the bill. Since 2005, same-sex couples have had the right to adopt, just like every other married couple, unmarried couple or single person. So for the past eight years, same-sex couples have been allowed to adopt children, yet not marry.
Under employment law it’s illegal to be discriminated against by your employer for your sexual orientation. Therefore, as a gay parent, you’re entitled to exactly the same leave as any other adoptive parent.
However, as a gay parent it can still be confusing to decipher what all of your options and rights are.
Broken down to basics, adoption leave is a mirror of maternity leave. It allows one person in a couple to take 52 weeks of Statutory Adoption Leave, which can start up to 14 days before the date the child starts living with you if you’re adopting a child from the UK. For overseas adoptions, you may start your leave when the child first arrives in the UK, or within 28 days of this date. On 7 April 2013, the weekly payment for adoptive leave was increased to £136.78. However, if your employer had an adoption leave scheme then this amount could increase.
Meanwhile, your partner could be eligible for paternity leave. This allows your partner to take two weeks off from work after the arrival of your adopted child. But, if you return to work, then your partner can take up to 26 weeks Additional Paternity Leave. This gives you a bit of flexibility in terms of sharing the responsibility of caring for the child. In April 2011, the law changed so that if one parent returns to work, the other can take over the remaining leave entitlement. However, this is up to a maximum of 26 weeks, must be taken between 20 weeks and one year of the child moving in with you, and must be taken in multiples of at least two weeks at a time. Of course, you’ll have to give your employer ample notice (eight weeks) if you want to do this.
There’s also the option of taking parental leave. This is slightly different in that it entitles you to 18 weeks of unpaid leave up until the fifth anniversary of the adoption, or until the child’s 18th birthday (whichever comes first).
During your leave, your employment rights will be protected. This means that all of your agreements listed on your contract (including holiday entitlements and pay rises) will continue through your period of leave and when you go back to work you’ll walk back into the same job, unless it isn’t reasonably practical.
So, as an adoptive parent, not just as a same-sex couple, you’ve got a number of employment leave options to consider.