Yesterday, I had the privilege of testifying before the NJ Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee along with 15 other people for the Birthright Bill that would allow adopted adults equal access to their original birth certificates. You may know by now that the committee voted 9-0, with one abstention, to release the bill to the Senate floor. Our opposition, the NJ Catholic Conference, NJ Right to Life, and ACLU-NJ, elected not to testify, although they did register their opposition to the bill with Committee Chair Senator Joseph Vitale, one of the bill's prime sponsors.
In another post, I'll suggest some measures we might take to express our displeasure with the positions of our opponents. We will also have to enlist impressive numbers of advocates to contact Gov. Chris Christie's office and let him know we care about this legislation.
For now, I'll post a copy of my testimony: please feel free to use any or all of it in your advocacy efforts.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify in favor of this bill today. I would like to address my remarks this afternoon to those of you who may have reservations about this bill. The main question we have to ask ourselves is this: Are adopted adults worthy of respect?
Do we respect them enough to treat them equally by law? And do we respect them enough to trust them to handle their own personal affairs competently?
First comes the equal rights issue. It is unjust to treat an entire group of people differently by law than we treat everyone else. Every other citizen has access to her original birth certificate. I do not, simply because I am an adopted person.
Consider how Martin Luther King Jr. defined an “unjust” law. It is one that a majority inflicts upon a minority, he said, and one with which the majority is not expected to comply. The law is particularly offensive, he said, when the minority that is affected has had no say in designing or enacting the law.
Obviously, we adopted adults had no say in crafting the law that would forever bar us from knowing our own ancestry and DNA. Equal access to our original birth certificates is a classic issue of civil rights, and that is the first part of this issue.
The second part is this: Can we be respected enough to handle our own personal affairs competently? There is a difference between equal access and reunion. Some adoptees search, some don’t, but every adopted adult should be treated just like any other citizen by the law.
Equal rights are equal rights. Reunion is a personal choice. I sought out my first mother 10 years ago because I felt strongly that I had a moral right to do so. I had experienced a serious medical problem, and I am not going to jeopardize my own physical and emotional health, and that of my children and grandchildren, because of an outdated law that makes no sense, factually or morally.
A private investigator found my first mother quickly -- I had always had my birth name, as it was printed on my adoption decree. (Many adoptees, up to 40 percent, by some estimates, have some identifying information, a fact that shows records were never sealed to protect original parents. They were sealed to protect adoptive families from “unwarranted interference.”)
My daughter, a doctor, prepared a user-friendly medical questionnaire, and I sent it to my first mother along with a personal letter by certified mail. My original mother was one of the few who was not open to a personal meeting or continuing contact. In fact, she was that woman about whom opponents to this bill say they are most concerned.
She filled out and returned the medical questionnaire, and later that week picked up the phone and called me. We had one helpful phone conversation, and that was the end of our contact. Our private past, which we co-own, is no one’s business except for hers and mine. We handled our past like the adults we both are.
There is a difference between basic knowledge, which is a right, and relationship, which is a choice.
To look at adoption as a positive option, we need to make sure that the person who is supposed to be the main beneficiary, the adoptee, is treated fairly and with respect. We need also to make sure that original mothers are treated fairly and with respect.
The data shows clearly that most original mothers do want to know what has happened to their children. We should not be crafting policy to serve the preferences of a very few, and trampling all over the basic rights of the vast majority.
If we looked at adoption in a healthy manner, we would not say, “A woman should be allowed to remain a lifetime secret to her own child.” Instead we would say, “Every adopted child is worthy of truth and respect, and as an adult, should certainly be entitled to equal treatment under the law.”
We would not say, “Adoption must be predicated on secrecy and denial.” Instead we would say, “The truth, however challenging it might be, may well allow all parties a sense of peace, healing and closure.”
In closing, I’ll say, “As an adopted adult, I respect myself. But any law that assigns me to a separate category or burdens me with special provisions does not respect me as an autonomous, capable person.”