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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Birthparent vetoes are compromising adoptee rights

Birthparent vetoes extending into the future seem to be the latest "compromise" that legislators are tacking onto adoptee rights bills that would give every adopted person the right to apply for and secure his or her original birth certificate (OBC).  These vetoes are totally unacceptable, in my view, because they bestow upon original parents, now and forever, a legal right that they have never had.

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.

Best regards,

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.


Lorraine Dusky

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.


Triona Guidry

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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  1. Who THE HELL ever HAD the right to reject her own child or not let her child know who she is? NO ONE. It amazes me people that actually think they are intelligent support the psychosis called closed adoption records, birth mother privacy and veto disclosure. I'm starting to think it is really too bad that we are not having riots like the blacks did in the 60's to get their justified rights. Maybe THAT is what it is going to take to make them listen. Violence against them that they DESERVE.

    1. Karen Florence GillsApril 10, 2013 at 11:19 AM

      I don't condone rioting but I do think out of the over 6 million adult adoptees that we should be able to get a few thousand of us for a peaceful march on Washinton, D.C. to get our voices heard. There is definitely power in numbers and we'd get the media attention we so desperately need. Other groups do it so why can't we?

      I am an Illinois adoptee that fell victim to the birthparent veto in 2010. I was born after 1946 so I had to wait 18 months before applying for my birth certificate even though my birthmother had been deceased since 2008. Still after that, Illinois adoptees weren't allowed to apply in person like non- adoptees. We could only apply by mail that could not be postmarked before 11/15/2011.

      There is no justice in a birthparent veto. It the bill is allowed to pass with the veto it will never be revisted again and inequality for adoptees will be permanent.

    2. Karen, we do need more media attention, and unfortunately, it seems very difficult to get. One of the reasons I started this blog is I had so much trouble getting letters and op-eds published in the mainstream press. I think editors see this issue as an "old story," and it is sad that it has also become entwined with the non-ending controversy about abortion and reproductive rights. And of course, we need many more of us to speak out. I am confident that change will come eventually, but it is so agonizingly slow.

  2. Every marginalized group has been told to only ask for an inch, that they'll never get a mile, that they need to be patient, that now is not the time. And it doesn't work. I agree with you that no type of veto is acceptable, only a contact preference. It appalls me that a first mother is behind this legislation. Here is a woman who made her own child an adoptee and now she is saying that it is only the first parents' who matter. Sounds like nothing but selfishness to me. The civil war didn't free only slaves in certain slaveholding states or only if their 'masters' agreed to free them. And that's basically what this permanent veto amounts to.

    And where are all the problems? Kansas and Alaska have never had sealed records and I don't recall ever hearing about any horrible outcomes from adoptees having acess in those states. Nor have I heard of devastating outcomes in Great Britain or Australia.

    Adoption decrees are written "in re" because one party to the legal action, the child, is not competent. I don't even see how that contract can be held over an adoptee's life when s/he was not a party to it and is over the age of eighteen.

    On another note, our OBCs help us to establish our genealogy. I was looking at the Daughters of the American Revolution and there is my ancestor. The website says adoptees are welcome to apply for membership. But how can we if we don't have legal access to the needed documents? It isn't even a question of whether or not I really want to join, but it does anger me that I don't even have the option.

    I would love to see the day when it is no longer politically correct for anyone to say that adoptees have no right to their original birth certificates.

    1. I would love to see that day too, Robin. Given the slow pace of progress, however, I'm not sure I'll live to see that day even in my home state of New Jersey!

  3. Robin I wonder if Rivers even is a birthmother. One of the scariest things about the internet, that has also been true in adoption are outright lies and secrecy. Anyone can go online and say I am a birthmother and I want my privacy, blah, blah. This person can put up blogs, post on forums and weaken our case day by day, which is happening. Of course if I could ask Rivers if she was really a birthmother she has sealed records to lie behind doesn't she? What a setup. She can't prove she isn't one due to the very discrimination against us that makes our lives hell. I am sorry about your Daughters of the American Revolution situation. I still do not know who my parents are, but I am glad you do. I've seen you around commenting and I think you are great. I also think maybe it is time we like the gays (even though I don't support gay adoption) start "ACT"ING "UP", and storm into vital statistic offices and rip them apart like gays did the churches. So we might get arrested, so what, big deal. Some day we will be seen as heros. And if we keep on doing this they will begin to see we are dead serious and refuse to be pushed around anymore. Maybe even afraid of us, can you imagine that, lol? And the truth is, it has taken major drama to end oppression in the past and I don't see where that has changed one bit. Especially for us. I wonder if AWOL would be interested in some hard core protesting? Cause, you know I am tired and I am game at this point in my life..

    1. Anon 5:22pm,
      I'm sorry you don't know who your natural parents are. It truly is cruel and inhumane that we who did absolutely nothing, are not allowed to know this most basic information about ourselves. Information that over 90% of the people on planet earth take for granted. I don't know how anyone who would deny another human being the right to know his roots and ancestry can live with himself. Who are they to play God? What gives them the right to sentence another person to go to his grave without ever knowing who created him and brought him into this world? I could not live with that on my conscience.

  4. Well Robin I don't think they have a conscience. I think they enjoy hurting us with their power to. The majority of people involved in adoption are sadists, they were from the beginning, Georgia Tann's picture should be next to the word in the dictionary. This is why conversation, debate and relaying our feelings does not work. They are also selfish and care more about making money and being happy then they do about morality. Adoptive parents care more about having control over their lives through controlling adoptees then they do about the psychological health of adoptees. This whole situation is very close to slavery as we all know and I just hope we don't have to wait as long as the slaves did to be set free. Being adopted has pretty much ruined my life but that fact just makes the sadists happy. That's why I dream of adoptees storming into churches and ripping up our amended birth certificates and throwing them all around lol. Again, if the gays can do stuff like that, why can't we? We have to be tougher, we have to be stronger, we have to be as mean to them as they are to us.

    1. Anonymous, I would be careful about painting all adoptive parents with the same brush. More and more are coming to understand how important it is to treat adoptees equally, and we need all of them on our side. Adoption is such an emotional subject, and it has hurt so many people -- that is why we see so much infighting among those who are working for reform, I think. I do agree that we have to be tougher and stronger, and we have to keep working to get more people involved. If more people would speak out, it wouldn't be so easy for legislators to sweep this issue under the radar screen.

  5. I agree with Susan. There are many aps who comment at the family preservation blogs who are trying to learn and who do want adult adoptees to have equality. But anon does make a good point that more acting up may be in order. It has worked for other groups and could work for us.

  6. I wasn't talking about ap's not having a conscience, sorry for the misunderstanding. Although some of them don't have one it seems. Some are okay and some are horrible. I was talking about people, in any role, profession or position who push disclosure, the birth mother privacy lie or who are against opening the records for adoptees. It is those snakes who have no conscience. And yes, it is really time for everyone to pull up their big girl Erin Brockovich pants and get in the faces of those who oppose us or this will continue at a snail's pace, which is unacceptable imo. We have been insulted long enough.

  7. I just linked to your page on my blog post ( today about access in Washington State and elsewhere to OBCs. Like you, I'm a grandmother--just one granddaughter so far lol. I'm an adoptive parent. I fully support access for adopted adults to their original birth certificates. With you on the journey. Great blog.


  8. Thank you for linking, Maureen, and thank you for supporting adoptee rights! I look forward to reading your blog!

  9. Thanks for sharing. It's hard to believe that this is still an issue. Of course everyone should have access to their birth certificates.

  10. As a first mother I support open records and will help your group in any way necessary legally and morally to right this wrong. I believe you need open birth records, open adoption records, legal records regarding the adoption process, etc. Why are they hiding these records? What are they hiding? We were abused by the system that was in place at that time and that will be shown by what you see and what you don't see in the records.


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