Monday, January 10, 2011

Fight over adoptee rights in NJ continues--time to make your voice heard

Lorraine
Here we go again in New Jersey: After more than three decades, as a less-than-perfect adoptee rights bill (A1046) is making its way to possible passage in New Jersey, a pretty terrible bill (A3672) is being touted as an alternative. Alternative, hell--it is far from that. It is a stinkin' measure that would keep adopted individuals from obtaining rights equal to the rest of us non-adopted folks by giving, once again, the few birth/first mothers in the closet (and first fathers) the right to smash their childrens' right to self-knowledge.

Forever. Forever. For all time. From their descendants.


That's right, forever. The Bad Bill would set up an intermediary system, as already in place in Michigan, Wisconsin, Maryland and elsewhere, a clumsy system that requires a state-appointed confidential intermediary to locate and contact first parents to request consent for adult adoptees to access their original birth certificate. This kind of system puts all adoptees under the psychological thumb of their first parents, no matter what, no matter how. Say your Dad was a priest and your Mom is deceased, and Father Strebzenski wants to keep his paternity secret from you, the child-now-adult. No problem--the state is going to protect his anonymity. All he has to do is say No. End of story.

Well, I suppose the law would "protect" first mothers who want to remain in the closet from their own children because they do not have the guts to confront their own flesh-and-blood, it must be guilt that keeps them locked up--but that's like offering a loophole to slave owners who protested the end to slavery. You don't like emancipation? You say it will end the economy based on the backs of slaves? Well, you can just opt out! Sign up today! 

That's the kind of offer the "alternative" bill being pushed in New Jersey makes to first parents. It's rather sickening, but here is how the bill's sponsor, Joan Quigley put it in an Op-ed piece on NJ.com:
"Some birth mothers had traumatic circumstances of rape or incest surrounding their pregnancies. Others feared for their own or their child’s safety. Still others — girls I knew growing up in the 1950s — entered into adoption under pressure and were told that 'no one would ever find out.' 
"In Trenton, we don’t see or hear from these women because speaking out would jeopardize the very privacy they wish to protect. But their circumstances should not be disregarded, nor their rights betrayed."
Well, a lot of us fall into this category, I was a girl in the 1950s--but instead of being promised that we would never be "found out," this kind of stupid secrecy was foisted upon us WHEN OUR CHILDREN WERE ADOPTED. Not when they were relinquished. As the law was written, we were promised nothing of the sort Ms. Quigley claims when we signed the surrender papers; the child is stripped of his original identity when he is adopted.

Of course, many powers that be are lined up against adopted people  in New Jersey: the Bar Association, the Catholic Conference of Bishops, NJ American Civil Liberties Union, and the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry are all invested in protecting their clients, the adoptive parents from dealing with the reality that their children were born to other people, carry other people's DNA, look like they belong in another family. But instead of admitting that is at the heart of their objections to giving adopted persons their civil right to own their own identities, they hide behind he skirts of first mothers like me and Jane.

In her personal crusade to deny adoptees their civil rights in New Jersey, the head of the New Jersey ACLU, Deborah Jacobs, has written an opinion piece calling the restrictive bill as "win-win." I'd like to strip her of knowledge of her own heritage for a day and see if she sees matters differently. The good news is that at least a few chapters of the ACLU, in Michigan and Florida, are beginning to see the light and support adoptee rights:
"... the ACLU believes that laws suppressing information about adoptees and/or their birthparents, and laws allowing access to such information only upon consent or registration, or laws allowing access to such information only upon court order, deny adopted persons, their birthparents, and their relatives equal protection of the laws and constitutes unwarranted interference by the government with the right of people to choose whether to associate.”
As we have written before about the situation in New Jersey, the other bill is less than perfect because it still gives first parents absolute rights to deny their adult children knowledge of who they were at birth. It allows them to file a denial for the release of their names on the original birth certificate, but only in the first year after passage.

But A1046, the one promoted by the people who have been on the ground in New Jersey, does not involve an outside party, an intermediary whose cost will be born by the adoptee, and after twelve months, first parents would no longer be able to legally object to the release of their names on copy of the original birth certificates given adoptees who ask for them. All first parents--past, present and future---retain the right to file a "contact preference" form at any time, and change it as they wish, as they do in Alabama, New Hampshire, Oregon and Maine. Though we have reservations about this bill, we believe that in the larger scope of human rights, this bill ought to be passed, since it appears it is best the New Jersey lawmakers are capable of after decades of lobbying. Some people simply can not understand that an individual's right to know who he is, who he was at birth--should be an absolute right and anything less than that is a unjust --lorraine

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For a comparison of the two bills, please see our permanent pages, listed on the sidebar or click here. And do find a way to stand up at be counted in New Jersey. See NJCare for how and leave comments at the opinion pieces above. We will win this war, one state at a time. But not without your support.

12 comments :

  1. I responded to Deborah Jacobs and Marie Tasy's article over the weekend. My headline--in screaming capital letters--reads THIS BIRTHMOTHER DOES NOT WANT TO RETAIN HER PRIVACY!

    I am one of the "important stakeholders that our legislators don’t have the benefit of hearing from personally: birth mothers..."

    As I've said previously in letters to THE HOME NEWS TRIBUNE (8/3/04) and THE NEW YORK TIMES (January 7, 2007), I've been a birthmother for 34 years and I am the rule rather than the exception. I have never met or heard of a birthmother (well, just one--the birth mother in South Jersey) who doesn't dream of being reunited with her child.

    When I relinquished in 1976, privacy was the least of my concerns. In fact, I left a neon-colored trail of bread crumbs. Almost eleven years ago to the day, my daughter made one phone call to our adoption agency and we spoke for the first time that same evening.

    My daughter has said that finally knowing her personal history has helped her make sense of the many questions that went unanswered for 23 years. I would never have prevented her from obtaining the very information she needed to find her sense of self, nor should New Jersey legislators.

    Let's not waste one more day arguing. Allow adult adoptees the basic right that most of us take for granted: to have a copy of their original birth certificate. Support Bill A1406.

    Pam Hasagawa and the members of NJCare have fought this fight for over three decades now; I would have given up long ago. I've "retired" from nearly all things adoption since my daughter chose not to have a relationship over five years ago, but it was easy to speak out on this issue. Let's hope open records for adoptees finally becomes are reality in 2011.

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  2. I think we are pretty much screwed here in Jersey, no matter what. Christie will put his considerable weight (ever see a picture of the man?)behind the awful intermediary bill, and things will be worse than they were and unfixable.The only hope to kill it is the fiscal angle, as Christie is cutting funds for everything, including libraries and schools and vital town services like police and trash pickup.

    Clever tactic of our opponents to introduce their own lousy bill and pretend they "care" about everyone. Very sad ending to a long fight.

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  3. I have heard the very over-used saying that "politics is the art of compromise." I am not thinking compromise here, but alternatives. Is it possible for a "third option" to be proposed?

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  4. Thank you for posting this insightful analysis, including examples of stakeholders who are opposed to granting adoptees these rights. I didn't realize the NJ bar ass'n, some ACLU chapters, and some religious groups had lined up against adoptee rights. That's so discouraging, but that was a great excerpt advocating for equal protection and freedom of ass'n. I would be curious to read an example of a religious argument against granting adoptees rights to their OBCs. Maybe it's economically motivated, in terms of the adoption "ministries" subsidized by churches, or related to fears about abortion...

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  5. Meridith, in Jersey it is all about abortion, and under that, Catholic Charities' incompetence, cruelty, and lies. It is not unlike the pedophile scandal and Bishop cover-ups. In fact, the groups opposing us are the Council of Catholic Bishops, and NJ Right to Life headed by Marie Tasie (sp?) a fanatic who has got it in her head that open records mean more abortions, and can't get it out even when we have proved again and again that this is not true.

    The Catholic Church has big legislative influence in NJ. In the West, the Mormons, a small group with no influence here, are the major players. Look what they did with Prop 8 (prop Hate) against gay marriage in CA. Rank and file Catholics and most parish priests either have no opinion on adoptee rights or are in favor, some Catholic Charities workers have testified in our favor, but the Bishops are the big guns who influence the legislators, and want to keep their power to cover up secrets, lies, and abuse, whether it be pedophiles or adoption abuse.

    I spoke to a survivor or priest abuse, and he immediately "got it" that opposition to adoptee rights and openness in adoption came from the same place. Anything about sex must be made dirty and secret, not rooted out and corrected but covered by deeper layers of lies.

    Generally when the Bishops say "jump" in New Jersey, the politicians say "how high"? It is a discouraging situation.

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  6. Meredith:

    The reason GIVEN for denying adopted individuals their full rights as a citizen is to "protect the first mother, protect the birth mother" in the closet. You know, the one who will drive their car in the river in their son or daughter contacts them. Even if the people who say this believe it, the few who deny recognition to their own flesh and blood should not have the right to be the final arbiter of civil rights for adoptees. Theirs is a specious argument.

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  7. I really just wanted to write an email to you asking for some help, but couldn't find a link for that so here's a comment. Please feel free to edit or not publish it.

    On 1/29/90 I became a first mother too. On 1/29/10 I joined CUB and focused my activism in this realm. My early attempts to help prevent teen pregnancy were hindered by being a first mother willing to speak about the trauma of adoption.

    Shortly after joining CUB I found myself joining AAC too and a few months after that I became the state representative for MT. I became a regular reader starting about then - Sept. this year.

    I had planned to be a slowly but surely kind of activist since I have a busy life raising three boys, working part time, other community service etc. etc. However, sometimes the doors open and it's best to walk through them. So here I am at the point.

    I need help because I have a MT house rep. willing to submit a bill for open records, but no confidence in the material I can create. I need it done in a day or two - crazy how these things happen. I was just planting seeds talking to people and here we are. Next opportunity to change MT laws is 2013 so I wanted to move forward.

    I spoke with an ACLU staff member here and I learned that ACLU state chapters have plenty of room to disagree on issues. Apparently, the staff member I spoke with felt adoptees should be treated as complete citizens too.

    Any support is welcome. Apparently the legislative staff help representatives draft the actual bill. What I need is good written material stating what needs to be done. I'm going to put something together now - would really love a proof reader. Maybe that will be my next comment submitted.

    wish me luck.
    ~beth of mt

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  8. There are two questions I often have about women who supposedly are too scared to reunite with their lost children to the point of lobbying to keep records closed:

    1 -- are they also adoptive mothers who wish to keep their adoptive children from reuniting, or have set the tone in their homes that us 'breeders' are so worthless that they are scared/ashamed of their adopted children finding out that they are "fallen women" too?

    2 -- Is it actually their child they need protection from, or is it in fact anticipated emotional abuse, emotional blackmail, or rejection of their current family members that they need protection from?

    I have seen mothers fit into both categories, but neither circumstance is any reason to keep records closed, when a family counsellor could help with both.

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  9. Cedar wondered about women who refuse to reunite with their found children and at the same time lobby against open records.
    That has got me musing too.

    As a reunited as well as adoptive mother who actively supports open records, I can't even begin to wrap my mind around what kind of creatures these women could possibly be. It simply makes no sense at all.

    Can it be that they are just figments of other people's disordered imaginations?

    Haigha

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  10. @ Beth

    A copy of the Maine bill would be a good place to start.

    I have lots of resources but it would be easier if you contacted me directly at joymadsen21@yahoo.com

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  11. Opps, I should have made note of this:

    Beth and I were in touch as she left her contact information in a comment and we have talked. I presume her well-crafted letter with links has already gone to the assembywoman she has been talking to in Montana.

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  12. Thank you Lorraine and Maryanne for answering the question I posed. I really appreciate it! I really hope and believe adoptees' civil rights arguments will one day overcome the opposition's arguments re: abortion and privacy. I just hope the day comes soon.

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