Several years ago, I was able to hold my nose and support the NJ legislation that gave original mothers a one-year period to white-out their names, not because I thought it was the right thing to do, but because I thought the legislation, approved by healthy majorities in both the Senate and Assembly, would finally, after 30 years, get us to where we need to be. As many of you know, Gov. Chris Christie "conditionally" vetoed that bill and suggested an unjust and unwieldy confidential intermediary system instead.
Now it would be very difficult for me to support even the one-year, white-out concession, as I firmly believe that every human being has the right to know his or her own story and possess his or her own documents. I suppose it is adoption mythology and reproductive ideology that makes it so difficult for people to understand that adopted adults own themselves. Their original families don't own them, nor do their adoptive families. If their OBCs don't belong to them, who in the world do they belong to?
These permanent vetoes, which have recently been tacked onto an adoptee rights bill in Washington state, make adult OBC access a favor that can be granted only through the preferences of another, not a civil right. As most adoption reform activists know, adopted adults at one time had the same rights to secure their OBCs as any other citizen has. Their birth records were sealed gradually, throughout the mid-twentieth century, primarily to protect adoptive families from "unwarranted intrusion." Now, adoptee rights activists simply want their right of access to their own OBCs to be restored.
Many adoption reformers have written to Washington Senator Ann Rivers, who is responsible for adding the permanent birthparent veto to the pending bills that would give adopted adults the right to obtain their OBCs. I'll share two such letters here, because they so clearly show why permanent vetoes are not a step forward.
Dear Ms. Rivers,
I was disappointed to view your testimony this year 'in support' of SB 5118. Whereas you, as a leader of this state, could have spoken to equal treatment for all citizens, you chose to promote your own special interest over common sense.
This bill does not balance the rights of adoptees and birth parents. As I understand it, any birth parent born in this state who is not an adoptee is able to secure her/his own birth certificate without obstruction. Instead, the amendment to the bill allows birth parents to obstruct an adoptee's access to their own truthful birth certificate and perpetuates society's belief that adoptees who seek out their identity are ungrateful, disruptive and villains of some mythical crime that they did not commit.
I am a human being. I am not a secret. Although, as a feminist, I do have compassion for women who are treated poorly due to unexpected pregnancies, I do not take responsibility for how these same women choose to build the foundation of past or current relationships. As in any relationship, an individual takes risks by keeping secrets and/or omitting the truth. As an adoptee, I bear no responsibility for my birth mother/father's choices.
This bill should be about equal rights. Period. As a tax-paying citizen of this state, I should be treated the same as any other citizen when I interact with government employees. I should not be treated like a second-class citizen by government employees whose attitudes and actions reflect discriminatory law. If SB 5118 passes with the non-disclosure amendment, the state of Washington will continue to discriminate against a class of people who did not choose to join the group to which they belong.
Adoptees will continue to fight discrimination in Washington as well as other states in this union. We will continue to do work to promote identity discovery and development using traditional search methods, technology and emerging science (DNA doesn't lie). We will continue to tell the adoptee story and not allow those with special interests (harboring shame, promoting secrecy) to skew reality. Your attempts to put adoptees in their 'rightful place' fuel the movement. Even if one of these discriminatory bill passes, you can be sure that you have not heard the last of us.
resident, taxpayer and citizen of 36th legislative district
Another eloquent letter to Ms. Rivers was penned by original mother Lorraine Dusky. I'll share some excerpts here:
Dear Senator Rivers:
I am a first mother like you, and I am horrified at the amendment you are tacking onto the bill that would give adoptees the right to their original birth certificates, for the birthparent veto continues the yoke of bondage that the sealed records instituted. This amendment gives all biological parents "privacy," if they so desire it, but in doing so flagrantly tramples the rights of others. The right to know who one is, who one was at birth, surely is an inviolate right that all individuals are given simply by being born, and the state must not be a party to infringing that right.
Consider the words of the 1980 document that experts in the then U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare wrote after holding hearings of adoptees, natural mothers, social workers, and adoptive parents throughout the country. Their Model Adoption Act stated:
“There can be no legally protected interest in keeping one’s identity secret from one’s biological offspring; parents and child are considered co-owners of the information regarding the event of birth….The birth parents’ interest in reputation is not alone deserving of constitutional protection.”
The times were not right then to allow this to pass. An adoptive father in the Senate, John Tower of Texas, vigorously fought against this provision and it was deleted from the final bill that passed. Yet adoptive parents elsewhere have fought just as vigorously for the right of their children to know their true heritage, such as Sen. Lou D’Alassandro in New Hampshire who got a bill though in 2004 with a contact-preference but without veto power. Today he talks about the fact that there have been no problems since passage. He did it because it was the right thing to do. Surveys of adoptive parents show that today they are overwhelmingly in favor of the children they adopted to have the right to know their original and true heritage, including the names of their parents.
Please reconsider your stand on this measure and do not let this bill pass with the toxic veto attached. That is like passing a bill against slavery, but adding a proviso letting the slave holders decide if they are willing to let their slaves go. You are so close to Oregon, and they have had no trouble--after lengthy court battles brought by a small group of Mormons--since they have allowed the free and unfettered right of the adopted to possess their own birth certificates. Remove this veto from the bill because it is the right thing to do. Do not be party to legislation that continues to enslave a small portion of adopted individuals. Come down on the right side of history. If this passes, it will be extremely difficult to revisit this issue and remove the veto. The harm done will be permanent.
I am the author of the first memoir from a woman who relinquished a child, Birthmark, published in 1979. If I can be of further assistance to you, please do not hesitate to call on me.
My comment to Ms. Rivers reads as follows:
Please remove the birthparent veto from this bill -- a birthparent veto going forward is totally unacceptable, as it puts the adoptee's rights to own her own documents at someone else's discretion. Please give adults enough credit to manage the most personal details of their lives on their own, without state or agency interference. Like it or not, I am forever genetically linked to my original mother, and I have the right to at least ask her for information in a private and sensitive way. When I contacted my original mother by certified mail, she did not wish to meet, but we did exchange information that was beneficial for both of us. It perplexes me that legislators think one private letter or phone call is too much to ask of original parents. What about my rights as an autonomous human being, the mother of two, and the grandmother of six precious children? The courts have affirmed that original parents have no legal right to anonymity from their own offspring, and it is time for legislators to acknowledge that fact and restore the civil rights of all adopted adults.
One of the strongest letters to Washington State legislators comes from adoptee Triona Guidry, who has been a victim of the birthparent veto provision that was enacted as part of an adoptee rights bill several years ago in Illinois. What she writes makes perfect sense to me, and shows why as adoptees, we must hold out for equal treatment under the law.
Dear Washington Senators and Representatives:
I understand you are considering an adoptee rights bill, SB 5118 / HB 1525, which contains a "contact veto" clause allowing birth mothers to deny adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Before you rush to pass such a bill, I hope you will consider the inequality of restoring access to some adoptees at the expense of others.
I am an Illinois adoptee and have been denied my birth certificate because my birth mother signed the veto in this state. I am the face of that supposedly small percentage of adoptees who will be permanently denied birth certificate access under this proposed legislation.
Rep. Orwall explains the need to favor the many over the few: "How sad it would be for some adoptees to not obtain this information while a birth parent may still be alive."
What about those adoptees left behind by veto legislation? Why isn't it sad that we cannot obtain our information as well - and in fact are permanently barred from it?
What makes some adoptees more deserving than others?
I was involved in the attempts to halt a similar bill that ended up passing here in Illinois. I have heard the arguments in favor of compromise legislation before: "Well, at least this will help the majority of adoptees." The assumption is that those vetoes will be such a small percentage it won't matter.
But the reality is that no state that has ever enacted veto legislation has gone back for those left behind. There's no sunset clause, no mechanism by which these adoptees will later have their birth certificate access restored.
Rep. Orwall is worried that birth families may die before adoptees have a chance to find them. But this isn't about search and reunion. It is about access to a critical piece of identity: our original birth certificates.
With increasing security in this post 9/11 world, many adoptees are discovering that their adoption paperwork alone isn't good enough. Discrepancies in the paperwork, i's not dotted or t's not crossed, and adult adoptees suddenly find they are unable to obtain driver's licenses, passports, and other critical documents.
I had a friend walk out of the DMV because she presented her amended birth certificate. She was told to bring the original - which, being adopted in a closed-records state, she has no way to obtain.
Veto legislation consigns some adoptees to this oblivion of non-access. They have no recourse, no way to obtain proof of their own identities. They are permanently banned.
The matter of birth mother privacy is irrelevant. My birth mother relinquished all rights to me when I was given up for adoption. Why does a stranger now have the ability to come back years later and deny me access to my own birth certificate? Not every adoptee who wants a birth certificate is looking to search. Search is a matter of personal choice and has no bearing on the civil right to obtain one's documentation of birth.
The only equitable solution is to restore to ALL adoptees the same equal access to original birth certificates as non-adoptees. This has been successfully done in Maine, where everyone follows the same procedure, adopted or not. Everyone pays the same basic fee. No one is left behind.
Maine has suffered none of the dire consequences so drastically described by opponents of original birth certificate access. Adoptees in Maine can walk into the courthouse, heads held high, and be treated the same as everyone else. That is all we want. If Maine, why not Washington?
I invite you to view Maine's legislation here:
It's no less sad or unfair for vetoed adoptees to be denied birth certificate access than it is for those whose birth families age and die while legislation is being considered. Because that "small percentage" so casually dismissed? Those are real people like me. We're not statistics. We exist. And we deserve the same equal rights, too.
Please vote no on SB 5118 / HB 1525.
Guidry's story reminds us about the real human beings that are hurt by birthparent vetoes. In many cases, the adopted person already feels rejected once -- the veto provision ensures that some adoptees will feel rejected twice. As Guidry reminds us, this issue is not about reunions; it is about basic civil rights.
If you would like to comment about Washington's pending bills, you can reach the two legislators responsible for the birthparent veto provision here:
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