Equal Rights … Something We Should All Care About

January 12, 2011

For my second posting on this blog (is it too late to figure out a more elegant word to describe these things?), I’m offering a commentary that is being published today on The Huffington Post. It’s about a subject near and dear to my heart – adult adoptee access to original birth certificates – and the context is what I truly believe it should always be: giving all Americans equal rights. That’s something everyone, and not just people with direct connections to adoption, should care about. Here’s the link to the Huffington Post piece, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-pertman/post_1565_b_807939.html, and the commentary is also right here:

At the beginning of the 1900s, grim predictions punctuated the debate over women’s suffrage. Everyone in the family unit would be damaged in innumerable ways if this outrage were allowed to happen, argued the critics, some of whom went so far as to predict the end of civilization itself.

Half a century later, another historic social change was in the offing, and the warnings of impending disaster were at least as dire. Indeed, some opponents of the movement to extend civil rights to people of color in our country were so sure that personal and social ruin were lurking around the corner that they fought with filibusters, nooses and guns to maintain the status quo.

Forecasting the future evidently is a difficult thing to do. Looking back is obviously easier, and it leads to two unambiguous conclusions. First, whether the effort is to give women the vote, provide African-Americans with equal rights, create access for people with disabilities — or level the playing field for any other discriminated-against segment of the population — there will be nay-sayers who insist that horrible things will occur if the sought-after change is allowed to transpire. Second, they will be wrong.

No, this is not a commentary about “don’t ask, don’t tell” or any other gay rights issue, though the identical observations would certainly apply. Rather, it’s about providing legal and moral equality for a segment of our population that is not generally perceived as deprived of any rights: the approximately 7 million Americans who were adopted into their families. And the right denied to most of them is so basic that it almost sounds like a joke: access to their own original birth certificates.

There are lots of reasons that adopted people want the same documents, containing the same information, that the rest of us take for granted. Some have medical motives, including individuals who need a matching organ or information about an inherited disease; others want to know about their heritage or genealogy (anyone remember Alex Haley?) or why their eyes are green or what their original names were; and many yearn to see the faces of the women and men who gave them life.

At the bottom line, however, those are not the reasons it should matter to everyone that adopted people, on reaching the age of majority, cannot automatically obtain their own original birth certificates like the rest of us. We should care, and we should feel outraged, for the same reason so many men supported suffrage for women and so many white Americans joined the civil rights struggle — because we should find it offensive when any minority group in society is deprived of equal rights.

Here’s where the nay-sayers come in. Honest-to-goodness, the following are among the consequences they say will occur if state legislatures give adult adoptees the right to access their original birth certificates: The number of adoptions in our country will fall, the number of abortions will rise, the lives of women who were promised lifelong anonymity when they placed their children for adoption will be ruined and, yes, adoption itself will be in peril.
Research in the field, including by the independent, nonpartisan think tank that I head, refutes or calls into serious question every one of those claims; here you can read the latest report on the subject.

Equally important, this is not a guessing game or a social experiment. During the last decade, more than a half-dozen very diverse states in terms of geography and politics — from Oregon to Alabama to Maine — have done what the nay-sayers warned them not to do, and two states — Alaska and Kansas — never sealed these documents, as most of the nation did in the last century. Guess what calamitous fallout there has been in these states.


Will some people face difficult or unexpected situations, or even get hurt, as a result of extending this right from coast to coast? Almost certainly, but we know from research, experience and official statistics (in the above states) that the numbers of those adversely affected will be tiny — and we should do all we can for them by taking steps such as providing public notice, offering counseling, and giving women who placed their children for adoption the ability to officially declare if they do not want to be contacted.

Is this issue as important as women’s rights or civil rights or disability rights or gay rights? Maybe or maybe not, but it’s not a contest to see which group should get rights and which should not. Besides, this much is certain: Every additional day, month and year that original birth certificates remain sealed, some more adoptees and birth parents who want or need to find each other will give up instead, and some more will die, without ever filling the hole in their hearts.

So it sure does feel important to the people who are deprived. And if we understand that it’s about equality and social justice for another group of Americans — 7 million of them — maybe we’ll feel it, too.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you want to “like” this commentary, please do so on the Huffington Post page. If you ALSO want to like it and comment here, feel free, but it’s more important to do so there. Thanks.

2 thoughts on “Equal Rights … Something We Should All Care About

  1. Lynne Banks

    Outside of God and my husband, my daughters, through adoption, are my heart

    At their final adoption hearings we said yes to the judge when she asked: “Do you promise to love your child as if she were yours biologically?” To us this meant we were promising to take care of our girls emotional and physical needs and most importantly their hearts and souls. We also knew that this meant their “being” did not begin with us. They were conceived and loved by others first, their birthparents. This also meant that during their life time we were caring for them as if we were not just two parents, but four.

    If we were to be successful in parenting our girls, we needed to first embrace our position in their lives, we were to recognize all of their needs, emotionally and physically and we were to always be honest with them and answer all of their questions about who conceived them, who gave birth to them, and who loved them first. To us, that is the role of every adoptive parent.

    Even though the judge said “yours biologically” it did not mean that we were to go on as if we conceived and gave birth to our girls. We knew that would be living a lie. So imagine our shock when we first received their amended birth certificate and saw that it listed us as the parents, as if we gave birth. We expected a new birth certificate to show we were their legal parents but not biological. My birth certificate is factual, as I was not adopted, but theirs is false So even though we knew we were being honest, the government was not.

    Today our girls are 18 and 11 and because we believe that they have a right to know their beginnings, they have our blessings when it comes to having a relationship with their biological families. Now they will not have to go through what other adoptees do when they do not have their answers as to who they look like, who conceived them, and those who are asking what is so wrong with me that the state government feels the need to keep something that is so rightfully mine? Why am I being treated like a second class citizen? Why does the state government feel that if I chose to search for those answers, that I would need their ok to do so

    Here are some truths I am asking you to pay attention to:

    1. The original birth certificates were sealed to protect people like us, adoptive parents and our children. For so many years, we the people, told adoptive parents not to tell your adopted child that he/she was adopted. Do not talk about adoption because they will be treated like second class citizens. And to help you out with that, we will seal their adoption records AND their original birth certificates so the public (school officials,etc ) will never be able to find out either. It was never said that we were wanting to protect the birth mothers, they were on their own after all they were scared into submission because we told them they were horrible, disgraceful, and highly disrespected human beings and no one would ever want to marry them. ( what mean spirited people we were).

    2. That there was a stigma against adopted children (can’t imagine people thinking my girls were little aliens just because they were not born into our family). In the old laws of adoption, the verbiage used was “illegitimate” and “bastard” (my girls are neither), it was we the people that allowed this concept so many years ago. Appalling to me,can we catch up with times now?

    3. That “promised anonymity” to birthparents never happened. We the people found the unmarried pregnant girl such an embarrassment that she was forced into hiding and after giving birth told to move on with life and pretend this never happened and NO you may not ever know how your baby is doing and where your baby is. She was forced into secrecy. Image what this has done to her heart and soul. Since when is it the state government duty to “imagine” this is what she still wants?

    4. That the legal definition of termination of parental rights means that the biological parent has no legal or physical rights over the child. Therefore, why is the state government allowed to think that birthparents still have a right to say yes or no over the adult adopted person? And furthermore, adult adoptee means they are over the age of 18, doesn’t the law state that our parents no longer have the physical and legal right to us after the age of 18? Mine did.

    5. My birth certificate has all the information that validates my existence. It is the one thing, other then my parents telling me, that truthfully states where I was born, what time, and how many siblings came before me. This is the same document that I use to get a drivers license, marriage license, and get into school with. The same document that my government tells me to hold near and dear to me and that no one else can copy it and be me. Why are we not giving that same right to all American born citizens? This document does not belong to you, the government, or anyone else it is mine and only mine.

    Since our birth certificates are proof that we are citizens of the United States, we are then granted freedom and certain rights. One being we are to be treated equal. Although the adopted person does not have their true birth certificate, they hold that right also. As a citizen I want to state that we the people were wrong when we thought sealing the birth certificates was the right way to protect the adopted person. We owe it to them to correct this wrong and allow all those affected by our actions to have equal rights and the right to begin healing from our uneducated decision all those years ago. We owe them the respect that they so rightfully deserve as equal citizens of our country.

    Give them what my girls and may adopted persons of today have, their Original Birth Certificate.


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