Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gays have political clout; bastards don’t. Lessons from New Jersey and New York.

Jane
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.

Eragon (Movie Tie-in Edition) (The Inheritance Cycle)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 Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption
The story of Georgia Tann
Success in these states was largely aided by particular circumstances. Tennessee passed its law to help reunite families split apart by the illegal acts of Georgia Tann. In the 1940’s, Tann, director of the Tennessee Children’s Home, and a corrupt judge stole poor children from their parents and sold them for adoption.

Adoption Politics: Bastard Nation and Ballot Initiative 58
How OR got its groove
Oregon opened its records via a ballot measure. Alabama had closed its records in 1990, long after other states, so there was less entrenched support for keeping records closed and the claim that birth mothers were promised confidentiality held less sway. Adoptee members of the legislature led the way in New Hampshire, Maine, and Illinois. In New Hampshire, an adoptive father, Lou D'Allesandro was instrumental in pushing through a clean bill.

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.

(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.

Margaret Mead
(5) Hone simple messages and stay on them. Logic and compassion alone rarely work. Petitions signed by birth mothers asserting they never asked for confidentially are countered by the specter of birth mothers who didn’t sign petitions because they want confidentially. It’s impossible to prove these ghost mothers don’t exist. Messages need to garner sympathy for adoptees. Use focus groups to help frame the messages. Lorraine suggested asking for Information Equality the other day; that takes first mothers and birth fathers totally out of the "whose rights are paramount?" question. 

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.

18 comments :

  1. The gay vs. bastard comparison is interesting. I think the advantage (often due to heinous circumstance) for the gay rights movement is that they have countless opportunities to gather, organize and protest injustice.

    I can only speak for myself but, as an adoptee, I feel like I wandered this earth for so many years ignorant to the injustice of my fate as I was drinking the societal kool-ade that dictated 'adoptees should just be grateful.' It was only after I started my search that I experienced the pained voice on the other end of the telephone, "oh, you're adopted, I'll have to transfer you." After two attempts to obtain my birth certificate, I was completely pissed off by the fact that the state was telling me that I did not exist (at least until three months after my birth).

    I've gone to support groups, which are relatively small in numbers - how do we find and rally large numbers of adoptees?

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  2. Awesome, let me know what you need from me.

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  3. Girl*wander asks "how do we find and rally large number of adoptees?"

    You could start by contacting legislators in your state who are adoptees. Ask them if they could put you in touch with adoptees who have led political campaigns. Talk to those people and go from there. You probably would form a political action committee (PAC) and begin to raise money. You can use the internet to build your organization. Think of Move On which started with a few people.

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  4. Jane, Christie would do the same thing and worse to a gay marriage bill if it came before him in NJ. He would veto, no matter how big the demonstrations or popular support, he does what the Bishops want.

    There have been massive demonstrations in Trenton by teachers, unions, and other public employees whose pensions and benefits Christie has cut and in many cases whose jobs he has eliminated. These demonstrations did not make a bit of difference to Christie and his buddies. They have just gone right ahead with their agenda.

    In this particular state at this time, demonstrations don't matter.We do not have gay marriage here and will not until Christie is gone, just like adoptee rights.

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  5. Jane, Thanks for a great thread.

    The politicos welcome first parents' opinions on adoptee rights so that they can publicly discount those opinion as unreliable unless of course those opinions aid and abet the Catholic Church even though politicos believe that first parents opinions are misguided.

    I.e., We reserve the right to use your voice against you in order to use it against someone else and to call you a liar at the same time we are telling some of you we believe you even though we're saying you're a liar.

    Maybe someone should put up a link to Joseph Heller's book because truly this mess in New Jersey - and everywhere else adoptees fight for their rights - is the ultimate Catch 22 quagmire.

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  6. I appreciate this correlation between gay civil rights and adoptee civil rights. And agree that obtaining OBCs is about information equality/equal access. When the gay rights movement began the gay population was looked upon as a joke, an exaggerated stereotype. All of their political efforts are beginning to pay off. Whether it happens state by state or with a federal law, there’s no turning back now because public opinion is in their favor. I’m not saying it’s a shoe-in but the tide has certainly turned in their favor.

    In my own state, Virginia, adoptee rights, or gay rights, are difficult to imagine. The governor and state attorney, both Catholic, road religious tails into office in 2010. Several of their initial acts were to severely restrict or eliminate women’s access to health care. It’s unlikely they’ll be receptive to adoptee rights. Nonetheless, education is very important. If there’re things I can do to raise the awareness of my lawmakers, than I need to decide what my part in that will be. And that gives me an idea. I wonder if there are any meetup.com adoptee groups in my area.

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  7. Florida State just approved same sex adoptions but still will not give original birth certificates to adoptees without permission of court order or permission by both birth mother and adopted parents. I am an interstate adoption FL had my birth certificate and NY has my sealed adoption.

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  8. Florida State just recently approved same sex adoption but adoptees are still not entitled to their original birth certificates with out permission of a court order or permission from both adopted parents and birth mother. I am an interstate adoptee. NY sealed my adoption and Florida owns my original birth certificate

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  9. True, maryanne, Gov Christie is a jerk when it comes to all things good and true. However, he and his friends in the NJ legislature can be gone in a few years. Gay marriage will come to pass if for no other reason than Atlantic City hotels would love to host gay honeymooners. Meanwhile adoptees will still be waiting for their birth certificates.

    Until NJ approves gay marriage,gay Garden State residents can cross the river and marry in New York.

    I doubt that NYC Mayor Bloomberg would have sent a lobbyist to Albany to defeat adoptee rights if adoptees had political power.

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  10. Jane, I dont know if you want to post this comment but I will say it. The Catholic Church, does not permit abortion or birth control. Many men in general had/have sweeties on the side. The church does not want "Adulterers" exposed because the church doesn't sin. How many children might com back to haunt those adulterers. No one wants to take responsibility for the children they created irresponsibly.

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  11. Thank you for the advice, Jane.

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  12. So adoptees born in Florida are forever children who must get mommy and daddy's permission to get their OBC. Sheesh. It may be known as the Sunshine state but for adoptees there ain't nothing but rain.

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  13. This is depressing. As a New Yorker, I used to like Bloomberg. What a jerk. Just like Congress dismantled the Glass-Steagall Act (which would have prevented the financial crisis of the past few years),right before the Christmas holidays in 1999 and 2000, NY and NJ sneaked this in right before the 4th of July. I guess they don't want us to know what they did with our precious babies.Maybe I should do what my niece did-move to Australia

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  14. "Maybe I should do what my niece did-move to Australia"

    Anon 6:23,
    You have a very smart niece. I, too, am looking into leaving the country. The U.S. is quickly becoming a country only for the rich. Our government has already been bought by the wealthy and special interests. Not only because of the adoption issue but I am also deeply disturbed by our "pay or die" health care system.

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  15. just my two cents...
    “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.” Yeah, and conversely, children have been raised by people other than Mommy or Daddy also since the beginning of time (or recorded history), and open records was once the law of the land.
    I thought that the AAC would have been the answer to 1, 2, and 3 of your ‘thoughts on how to proceed’ but I guess not if we are still looking to fill those slots. I was once part of a reform organization that repeatedly cautioned me that my opinion(s) hurt the feelings of or offended some birth mothers and/or adoptive parents. Really? Well no one ever told me what it was that I said that was so offensive and I realized that the people I offended were for adoption reform but not for adoptee rights.
    I think all bills start out ‘simple’ (i.e. restore access to original birth certificates for Adult adoptees), but either because of what has gone on before in regards to access in some states or because people want to either guarantee that there will not be or Will be loopholes in the law’s verbiage.
    I don’t know whether we need to have simple messages or just stay on point, but you’re right we need to make and keep our goal clear. Personally, my goal is OBC Access for Adults adopted as children… after that’s accomplished then I’ll look at how families of origin (and by this I mean birth fathers and/or their parents) are all but cut out of the adoption process and are not allowed to keep their child or grandchild.
    Mothers need to be saying, loud and clear, “Our children, that we surrendered, have every right to their original birth certificates and to know us if they so wish.” Mothers need to put the attention where it belongs – on the ADULT that was surrendered as a child. Start making sure that Everyone understands that these legislative bills are not about broken hearts and weepy broken families… these bills are about the Civil Rights of a segment of the American citizenry. I don’t have much, if any, desire to see people trying to garner sympathy for adoptees or our natural Mothers. There are those that oppose access that when they see/hear the water-works start our tears are like blood to sharks. Once the frenzy begins then whatever point we were trying to make gets lost. And, in my experience, every time they see us cry or get agitated to use it to promote their stance that our natural Mothers need to be protected from us (i.e. we are unstable).
    Something I think we must learn (that the GLBT folks Know) is to present a united front. I would love to see equal access for every adoptee from 18 to 110, BUT I am not willing to sacrifice a 70 y/o adoptee who wants desperately to know their natural parents’ last names because some 20 y/o adoptee who doesn’t give a rat’s putout right now isn’t included in legislation that will pass.
    Thank you Jane, for writing this entry and making us reach for our thinking caps.

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  16. Cully,
    The American Adoption Congress is a tax exempt corporation (often refereed to by the relevant section of the Internal Revenue Code, 501(c)(3)). As such, the AAC cannot raise money for political candidates, lobby, or do anything directly political. Ditto for Concerned United Birthparents, Origins-USA, and the E. B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. I'm not sure about Bastard Nation.

    Advocates for OBC access could create a Political Action Committee (PAC) which can raise money and donate to candidates. Contributions are not tax deductible. There are other mechanisms to support candidates as well. There are folks that know this stuff a lot better than I do and I know there are adoptees among them.

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  17. Who is a numbers person out there? it looks to me that the numbers of adoptees who request their OBC in states where the records are open is rather small compared to the total number of adult adoptees. It certainly is not a majority. Our movement is a comparatively small one and not all adoptees or all birthmothers are interested in it, no matter how much publicity we get.

    Even if only one adoptee wanted their OBC they should have the right to get it. Many people don't vote but all have the right. A right is not about huge numbers wanting it; it is not about majority rule but about human dignity and equality.

    We need to separate emotional issues, search and reunion, and medical or agency records access from the right to one's own birth certificate.

    Large numbers of adoptees or mothers or celebrities who have searched on their own are not going to get involved. I think our strategies need to go in other directions, how have other small causes gotten what they seek? How can we get the public and the politicians to see this is a non-controversial simple right that can be simply fixed? Lots of legislation passes every day that is not reported, because it is routine and not news. Maybe in some states this could work for us.

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