Saturday, April 28, 2012
by David Phelps,
When we think about adoption reform legislation, one fact must be kept uppermost in our minds and that is the unalienable right of all people everywhere and always to know who they are and from whence they came. Knowledge of one’s origins is so basic, so vital to the human condition that it is impossible to imagine human life in the normative sense, let alone liberty and the pursuit of happiness, without it. Surely the formation of a healthy human identity necessarily includes such data as who one’s mother is, who one’s father is, some information about one’s ancestors, knowledge of one’s ethnicity, religious affiliation and the like. For people who have not had their original identities stripped from them at birth, it may be extremely difficult to see how not having such information affects every facet of life. They are as Betty Jean Lifton has said, like the sighted trying to see into the darkness of the blind. So accustomed are they to knowing where they grow on the human family tree that their position becomes perhaps assumed and part and parcel of who they are. A Brooklyn born Italian-American pasta maker knows very well who he is and his identity informs him daily. An Irish-American New York City policeman, who is perhaps a second or third generation cop, doesn’t he too know exactly who he is?
The first step in reforming New York’s adoption laws must be to give adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. It is not only a question of equal rights for those adopted in New York, it is also vital to their well-being. New York must face the fact that the adoption practices of the past were wrong, hurtful and discriminatory. The scope of the state’s discrimination becomes clear if we imagine the children of some minority group being systematically denied knowledge of their origins and being given by the state a false identity. This is exactly what happens in a closed adoption. What if the children of Greek-American New Yorkers where so denied? What if the state decreed that all Native-American children born there would henceforth and forever be denied the knowledge that they were Native-American? What if the state decreed that all African-American children born there would henceforth and forever be denied the knowledge of who their parents were? These actions are unthinkable and barbaric, yet they are exactly what happened to thousands of New York’s citizens who had the misfortune to be adopted in the state.
We believe any restriction or veto to access to the original birth certificate would be contrary to Article I Section S11 of the New York Constitution. Furthermore, as the appeal of the Oregon open records statue shows, there are no impediments in Federal law to the passage and implementation of a clean, veto free bill which would at long last give New York’s adopted citizens and those adopted but no longer living there, equal rights. Such a law in no way fully addresses the inhumanities foisted upon adopted people and first parents in New York. But it is a start.