Friday, July 17, 2009

Adoptees up against backward laws protest at the National Conference of State Legislatures

By Joyce Bahr

Members of New York’s Unsealed Initiative ending a legislative session lobby in Albany for the Bill of Adoptee Rights will be joining protesters at the National Conference of State Legislatures annual conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 21, 2009. Fed up with outdated laws dating back to the 1930’s sealing original birth certificates forever, advocates for change and reform want legislators to know they will no longer tolerate unfairnes, discrimination and disrespect. Kansas and Alaska never sealed birth certificates. Why in the twenty-first century are there laws nullfying a person's right to know the basic facts of their birth?

England gave adopted persons rights to original birth certificates in 1975 and some countries never sealed birth certificates. Many countries have changed their laws since the 1980's giving adoptees long overdue rights, while U.s. adoptees intentions are unequivocally stated with recent success for full rights in Alabama, Maine, New Hampshire and Oregon.

The delay in the U.S. in passing legislation stems from adoption agencies and certain legislators unwillingness to listen and change with the times. Certainly adoptees should not have to feel shame or fear in wanting knowledge of their origins, and speaking out against discrimination facing them. Sealed records discriminate against the very adoptees they were originally meant to protect. Advocates ask do sealed records serve to help anyone when an adoptee reaches the age of majority?

Sealed birth certificate statutes in the U.S. state nothing of confidentiality of birth/natural parents, only confidentiality of birth certificates. Some legislators believe birth/natural parents were given confidentiality however recent research conducted by Elizabeth J. Samuels with the Baltimore School of Law published in the Rutger’s Law Review titled The Idea of Adoption: An Inquiry into the History of Adult Adoptees Access to Birth Records concludes laws closing records to the parties were enacted not as a shield to protect natural/birth parents from their adult children’s ever learning their identity, but as a sword to to prevent them from interfering with the adoptive families raising the child.

Confidentiality of birth/natural parents has been a bone of contention in the struggle for rights and advocates will agree a smokescreen for other reasons to object. One being objection by adoptive parents who reject the idea of a birth/natural parent as an extended family member. In 1997 a study conducted by Cornell University found adoptive parents overwhelmingly support the adoptees right to know. It’s not surprising some adoptive parents in the legislature are sponsors of adoptee rights legislation.

Possibility of numbers of abortions climbing , fear of adoption placements slowing or any other unproven reason, adult adoptees are demanding they alone make the decision to request their birth certificate. And the state should not be an acting Father Knows Best standing in their way to access what is rightfully theirs.

A November 2007 comprehensive study conducted by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute the foremost think tank on adoption issues concludes adoptees behave with maturity and respect when contacting birth/natural parents and that birth/natural parents lives are not ruined from being contacted. The report urges all states to follow states with open record laws and unseal birth certificates. Times have changed with thousands of adoptees and birth/natural parents searching every year. Several states have pending legislation and several states have partial open records, meaning adoptees born in certain years have access. Do natural parents have access?Three states have enacted laws giving them search assistance but not direct access. These states are Illinois, Georgia and Tennessee.

The July 2009 protest organized by members of the Adoptee Rights Demonstration is a demand for legislators to vote on adoptee rights legislation. Not to table it or assign it to a committee known as hell where bills go to die. Protesters are asking legislators to think hard about an adoptees inalienable right to identity and need to know. Advocates describe sealed records laws as outdated, antediluvian, slow to catch up and backwards. It’s time to bring state laws current with society and give adoptees the respect from the state they deserve.