Last week New Jersey’s Governor, Chris Christie, sank a bill which would have allowed adoptees to access to their original birth certificates. The New York legislature tabled a similar bill after New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg sent a lobbyist to Albany to oppose it. Meanwhile the New York legislature passed a bill to allow single sex couples to marry, a measure which would have been unheard of a few years ago.
There’s a certain anomaly to this. While homosexual sex has been around as long as there has been life on the planet, gay marriage is brand new. When gays began talking about the right to marry, conservatives--many of the same folks who oppose adoptee rights--some Catholic bishops, Mormons, evangelicals-- sprung into action. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and states, including my own state Oregon, passed laws barring gay marriage.
Gays organized, raised money, and turned the tide. The District of Columbia and five states—Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont, soon to be joined by New York, passed laws allowing gay couples the same right and rites as straight couples.
Compared to gay marriage, allowing adoptees to have their original birth certificates should be a piece of cake. As countless works of literature tell us, the loss of natural parents and the need to search for them is universal and as old as civilization itself. I found this recently in Eragon, which my eight-year-old grandson gave me to read. Eragon is a saga filled with dragons, mysterious bad guys, and all the things little boys love. The title character’s mother abandoned him the day after he was born. “He always had a nagging suspicion that he was not good enough for his mother. I’m sure there was good reason for what she did; I only wish I knew what it was. One other thing. Who was his father? ... It would be nice to know his heritage.”
Politicians have given adoptees more vinegar than cake. Only nine states, all but one—Illinois—small population states, allow adoptees to have their original birth certificates. Kansas and Alaska never sealed their records.
The Tennessee legislature allowed disclosure of adoption records in 1996. Delaware enacted legislation effective in 1999 allowing adoptees to have their original birth certificates unless their birth parents opposed release. Oregon gave adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates in 2000.
Alabama enacted a law modeled after Oregon’s law in 2000 followed by New Hampshire (2006) and Maine (2009). In 2010, Illinois passed a bill allowing adoptees to have their original birth certificates but giving birth parents of adoptees born after 1945 the right to have information identifying birth parents deleted.
|The story of Georgia Tann|
|How OR got its groove|
This history suggests that adoptee rights advocates should consider changing course if they want to avoid the problems which doomed the bills in New Jersey, New York, and other states in recent years. (I’m no expert but I have been tangentially involved in politics most of my life. My father, a minor player in Chicago politics, put me and my sisters to work in 1952, stuffing envelopes for Adlai Stevenson.)
Here are my thoughts on how to proceed.
Here are my thoughts on how to proceed.
(1) Build a political organization using the expertise of adoptees who have worked on campaigns or been elected to office.
(2) Raise serious money. Ask wealthy adoptees who’ve had reunions or would like reunions to donate.
(3) Support candidates for office who are likely supporters. (As in, can we get rid of Christie in NJ?)
(4) Follow the KISS principle. (Keep it simple, stupid.) The best bills are simple bills. Legislators have lots of things to keep track of and some of them don’t have that much gray matter to being with.
6) Build large state wide organizations with members in every legislative district.
(7) “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead.