With a constitution that is lauded as one of the best in the world, and a globally progressive LGBT rights legislation that has steadily evolved in its inclusivity over the past thirty years, South Africa has come a long way in its effort to embrace same-sex and/or mixed-race couples, overcoming centuries of racism, prejudice and discrimination.
Nevertheless, our young democracy has a long way to go before diverse, modern families are seen as the “new normal” – a stilted progression, compounded by newly proposed adoption legislation, that is impacting South Africa’s adoption rates.
Joburg-based parents Darren and Emanuel Kelly-Loulié first entered the adoption market in 2011, ten years after same-sex partners were legally allowed the same adoption rights as married spouses. Legality aside, the mixed-race couple were hard-pressed to find an adoption agency that would take their case.
A rocky road ahead
Despite upholding Christian values in their own home, finding the right agency that would happily promote a household headed by two men proved to be challenging, but not impossible. Darren and Emanuel eventually found an agency that would take on their case.
However, even then they were warned that their sexual orientation was likely to hinder the adoption process.
“Our social worker played open cards and warned that homosexuality was not yet seen as a norm among mothers looking to give their child up for adoption,” recalls Emanuel. Many birth mothers were likely to reject the couple’s application, unconvinced that two men would be appropriately equipped to raise a child, or have the best intentions for that child.
Nevertheless, after an exhaustive and thorough process that included several social worker checks, home visits and interviews with friends and family, as well as police clearances to prove that they were not on South Africa’s national register for sex offenders, Darren and Emanuel received the news that a two-month-old little boy was ready to come home to his forever family, 14 months after submitting their application.Typically, adoptive couples are given 24 hours to mull over their decision, but for the Kelly-Louliés, the decision was immediate and it wasn’t long before their adopted son Jeremy became part of their new family of three.
The couple admits that having a newborn in the house was a far bigger adjustment for Darren than it was for Emanuel, who comes from a big family where kids are par for the course.
“I never really wanted kids and I had come to terms with the fact that I was never going to have a baby in my life. That is, until Mr came with his ultimatum,” he quips, smiling at Emanuel, who had been adamant from his teen years that he would one day be a father.
A run-of-the-mill household
Thankfully, Darren’s response to Emanuel’s ultimatum was positive and the pair can’t imagine their lives without their now six-year-old. They joke about their good cop/bad cop parenting styles, how Darren is more of a nurturing ‘father hen’ who is more likely to mollycoddle Jeremy as the obvious helicopter parent, while Emanuel is the disciplinarian who encourages their boy to be more independent.
And while many onlookers still comment about them being an ‘abnormal’ family, the Kelly-Louliés are perplexed that they would be considered anything but a run-of-the-mill household.
“I don’t think there’s anything that a heterosexual couple has been through with a child that we haven’t, except of course where a mother is concerned, because we obviously didn’t breastfeed or give birth,” laughs Emanuel.
“Everything you do at home with your child, we do at home. All the tantrums you experience with your child, we experience with ours. We’ve gone through teething, lack of sleep, adjusting to life with a newborn. I would say we’re normal. Well, we aren’t abnormal,” he chuckles.
Modern families are the rule, not the exception
“Our mission has always been to normalise the narrative of modern families. There are a lot more of us in South Africa,” adds Darren. The couple find that living in Johannesburg makes it easier to slip into a society that is more open and accepting of mixed-race gay couples with a child outside of their race.
“Modern families here have become more mainstream and things are a lot easier than when Emanuel and I first met in 1999. But the minute we go to smaller towns in South Africa, we immediately pick up on the animosity. And it’s not only because we have a coloured or black child with us, but also because we’re a mixed-race couple,” says Darren.
Though the pair has grown a thick skin over the years, they have had to be cognisant of how people’s reactions affect Jeremy. “We’ve gotten to the stage where we are so thick-skinned it doesn’t bug us anymore, but we’ve obviously got to be aware of how it’s going to affect Jeremy going forward.
“He knows about his situation, where he comes from and what we’re about, but he obviously gets approached by kids at school and we feel that, the more we empower him, the better equipped he is to respond appropriately. We don’t hide the facts, we embrace them and we’re open about them,” says Emanuel.
Dovetailing with their mission to normalise same-sex marriages, the Kelly-Louliés have fast become champions for fostering and adoption, spotlighting the 2018 statistic that out of 2.7-million orphaned children in South Africa, only 1300 were adopted.
“There are so many children in this country that need love, security and a better chance in life. Give them that chance. Don’t discriminate, don’t be prejudiced and understand that gay couples are perfectly capable of raising well-adjusted, happy and healthy kids with the ability to give them a future,” says Darren, whose only regret about adoption is that he didn’t do it sooner.
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