' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: American Dilemma: What happened to one's right to know one's birth parents?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

American Dilemma: What happened to one's right to know one's birth parents?

The Irish are considering insisting that fathers be named on the birth certificates of children born to unwed mothers. Those backing the new legislation believe that the inclusion of the father’s name would help to reinforce a child’s right to know who their parents are.

The push for the new legislation comes following a report by the Law Reform Commission which found that having both the mother and father’s name on a birth certificate could help reinforce a child’s right to know their parents. The Law Reform Commission also warned that without knowledge of who their father is, children could run the risk of “striking up relationships” with people they are unknowingly related to. [Emphasis added.]

While this is happening across the Atlantic, here in America we can't get the legislators in charge in, say, my home state of New York, to understand that knowing your true identity should be a right without question. As the days tick down to the end of yet another legislative year across the country, we have not one more state to add to those where the legislature saw the light and gave adoptees the right to their original birth certificates, and to do with the information on them as they chose. It's really very simple: Give to the adult what he could not know as a child because he was too young to grasp and hold the information.

Because of legislation passed last session, those adopted individuals born in Rhode Island 25 years of age and over will be able request their original unamended birth certificates on July 1st.

But this year, efforts in several states so far have gone nowhere, and for many states, time has run out for another year. In New York, we get our hopes up--we have good solid backers of a clean bill--that is, one without the poison pill of a birth parent veto--in both houses, the Assembly and the Senate, but it appears without the strong push of Governor Andrew Cuomo, our bill will once again fall between the cracks. Gay marriage was the social issue which Gov. Cuomo used his clout on this session; so far we do not hear that he will take up the legislative cudgel he has and use his clout to end the tyranny of the genealogical void of most adoptees born in New York state.

What do we hear? That certain important legislators (Sen. Tom Duane, Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein) will go on opposing our bill as long as they see themselves "protecting" even a single birth mother from the shame of exposure. That is the kind of thinking that is impossible to combat; there will always be birth mothers imprisoned by shame and unconcerned for the well-being of their offspring. I do not know how to reach them, or how to help them open their hearts. What we must do instead is convince legislators that the rights of the individual to know their place in the tree of life supersedes any supposed right to birth mother privacy, a right that many--if not most--of us did not ask for, nor did not want when we relinquished our children. Maybe we wanted our shame hidden at the time, but not forever did we want to be unknown to our children.

In Ireland and other places in the world people understand that one needs to know one's heritage, if only so as not to unknowingly enter into intimate relations with one's siblings--or parent! But in America a willful blindness to this need has descended on far too many legislators.
What the movement needs is a huge wellspring of action from the first mothers and adopted individuals acting up and speaking out for their rights to rip those scales off. Without action, there will be no reaction from the legislators. Another year will go by without even one more more state on the tally sheet states that have brought their legislation into the modern era. Rhode Island will make the number of states with unrestricted access to original birth certificates for adopted individuals a mere seven. Numerous other states have a crazy quilt of laws that give some adoptees, but not all, the right to their original birth certificates. Several states allow birth parents to file a veto, thereby leaving in their hands total power over another class of people. 

It is a shameful situation. And it is peculiarly American, this notion that roots do not count for all, while television reality shows and websites such as ancestry.com by their very popularity show this to be a sham. 

Right now we could use help in New York before the legislature comes to an end. If you were born and adopted in New York State, if you relinquished in New York state, or are a current resident of New York, please take a moment to call the office of the leader of the NY Senate, Dean Skelos and ask that ADOPTEE EQUAL RIGHTS BILL S7286, be brought to the floor for a vote. Call 518-455-3171.

Then call Kemp Hannon, chair of the Senate Health Committee, where the bill is currently sitting, and ask that the bill be released from committee for a floor vote. Call 518-455-2200.

And lastly, call the office of the chair of the Assembly Codes Committee, Joseph Lentol, and ask that the ADOPTEE EQUAL RIGHTS BILL A8910 be put on the committee agenda for a vote. Call 518-455-4477. All three calls should take less than 10 minutes. You will speak to an aide and they are polite and only talking down number of calls. One does not need to be a member of the triad to lobby. Ask your partner, siblings, parents, friends to phone also. Numbers count.

We have dozens of sponsors and supporters of our bills but because a few powerful people are holding back the tide, our bills stagnate and die in committee. To make a difference, to do something useful with your passion and pain, speak up, act up, pick up the phone. If not you, who? If not now, when?--lorraine

New Irish law could force single mothers to name the child’s father on birth certificate

for more on the New York situation, see: UPDATE: NY Adoptee Rights


  1. Hooray for Ireland. One of the things I felt was most unfair when I surrendered my daughter was the "Father Unknown" on her birth certificate and the surrender papers. He was not unknown, but I was told that was the way papers had to be submitted. All it did was reinforce the negative image of myself that formed while I was pregnant.

    Eventually we'll get the NY laws changed if we keep pushing -- or at least nudging legislators.

  2. Margaret Susan Hoffman LyBurtusMay 21, 2012 at 1:47 PM

    How wonderful the legislators in Ireland understand this should be every persons right. I will be calling in on behalf of the NY adoptees who I have networked with over the last 22 yrs while searching for my daughter and educating others of the need for equal access in 42 states that currently deny that right. Every person who believes this, needs to call all of their legislators to see how they stand on the issue and either change their mind or do not vote for them. The days of secrecy in these matters is over.

  3. It is time for NY to get this done! The aides I've just spoken with are , indeed, friendly and courteous. I told them I was born in NY and that my parents always had my mother's and my name on the adoption decree and that it cost me $1200 to go to court to receive a copy of my OBC. I'm going to email that evidence of the frailty of the "confidentiality" argument as soon as this goes out. If you have ANY NY adoption connection or live there now, PLEASE do as Lorraine requests above!

  4. You could also try explaining to the legislators that there is no other circumstance where anyone receives such 'protection' not was it ever promised to any relinquishing mother. There are ample laws that exist to protect ALL citizens from harassment and stalking. No one is protected from a simple door bell ring or telephone call that is not for a solicitation, and has the right to say "not thank you." To provide extra protection when it violates the equality of the adoptee is as preposterous as denying women the right to vote because they may not vote the way their husbands do.

  5. NO MOTHERS WERE EVER PROMISED ANONYMITY! It is NOT in any relinquishment agreement, nor is it an "assumed" right as anyone can be found today even with the records sealed!

  6. Done! Called, spoke, and was heard. At least I think so. The last call was particularly encouraging as the aide said that he had received over 2 dozen calls today (Monday) and he will have plenty to report back to Mr Lentol.

    Two-dozen calls doesn't seem like a lot to me. We need to have every adoptee and their families call in. Thank you to those who have maade the calls!

  7. I have never wavered from my stance that every human being has the 100% unequivocable right to know who the man and woman are who created him(her) and brought him(her)into the world. (Although I realize this is not always possible).

    I agree with Lorraine that the argument has to move from the alleged promise of anonymity to the rights of the powerless member of the "triad' who is bound by this law but was never given any say. No one's so called right to privacy should trump any individual's right to know such a basic and VITAL aspect of human existence as his biological origins.

    It is high time that APS realize that they were lied to and accept that adopted children are not the same as if born to. Falsified birth certificates and sealed records cannot change reality. Nor can promises of anonymity, which cannot be guaranteed in the first place, change the fact that a couple had a child.

    Ireland is taking a step in the right direction. The U.S. used to be such an advanced nation and now we are in many ways so far behind.

  8. Anon: You probably spoke to the same guy I did, he seemed very energetic and positive. The other two aides...not so much. If you have not called, yet, do leave your name and locale. Yes, 2 dozen calls is not an avalanche.

  9. My Partner and I have been fostering now for almost 25 years and we have come up against this question time and time again, when the children have spent so much time away from the original family unit, sometimes to never return. Those young children who came to us from 6 months or less often when they reach maturity ask the questions ? who are my real parents. In my view as custodians of these children who sometimes come from very difficult back ground and circumstances. It's always been my view that if the child is old enough and mature enough to understand these difficulties then if we hold the information we should be allowed to divulge who the parents are but in most situations due to family break downs and other issues this information is not always able to be forth coming.

  10. Lisa,
    This post is about adult adoptees. If the law is a child is considered an adult at 18 who are any of us to say if they can or cannot obtain a copy of their original birth certificate? It is their legal document stating the facts about their birth. The truths that they may hold should not be denied.
    As Mirah has stated none of us were ever promised anonymity.

  11. It's my opinion that parents should be DNA tested before going on a birth certificate. If the baby is donor conceived the donor should go on the birth certificate.



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