A Modest Proposal: Guest Blogger Maryanne Cohen

Long-time activist Maryanne Cohen was with Bastard Nation at the Hard Rock last week (see below).After the event, she sent A “Modest Proposal” to Adam Pertman, director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and posted the same on a couple lists. Her proposal is simple: clean up the mess you’ve made with your bad bills that leave people behind before you lecture the rest of us about the uselessness of working on good bills that don’t. As she reminds them, “In contrast to the fact of some clean bills being passed, no bad adoption legislation has ever been successfully revisited and “fixed” to make it unconditional access legislation.”

I liked what Maryanne wrote and asked if I could post it here. Maryanne agreed, but first expanded her thoughts, which you’ll find below. Please feel free to forward.

I recently attended an “Adoptee Rights” event where it was said over and over that while we would really rather support clean adoptee rights legislation, clean bills cannot get passed so we must support compromised bills. Never fear though, we will go back and fix those bad bills soon so it’s all good. Smiley faces and applause all around.

My challenge to those who feel this way is to stop introducing compromised bills of various sorts in states where no adoptee access legislation has been passed yet, and go back and put all your efforts into fixing one of the several states that have already been compromised so that not all adoptees there can get their OBC by asking. You have several to choose from, Ohio and MA with black hole legislation, IL which is too complicated to figure out, DE, CO. all come to mind.There are a few others. Pick one. Ohio’s black hole law has been in place for decades, that might be a place to start. Go to work on it. Report back when it is repaired. I’ll buy you a beer!

The fact is that clean legislation HAS passed in several states, New Hampshire, Maine, Alabama. Was it easy? No. Will it be harder in some states than others? Sure! is it nearly impossible to pass anything in some states like NJ where I live? Yes. Is legislative reform frustrating, exhausting, cynic-making, sometimes disgusting, sometimes fruitless work? Yes, absolutely. But it has been done and can be done again. We have to be in this for the long haul, not quick dirty Band Aid patches.

In contrast to the fact of some clean bills being passed, no bad adoption legislation has ever been successfully revisited and “fixed” to make it unconditional access legislation. I do not think it honest to promise something nobody has yet delivered as a condition to pass something/anything on your watch. It is more difficult to go back and fix flawed legislation than to hold out for a clean bill. One reason is that many veto bills give birthmothers a right under law to request confidentiality that they never had before. Another is that our cause is not important to politicians, and their attitude is “we already dealt with that little issue” when we try to come back and amend existing laws.

Veto, black hole, compulsory intermediary legislation is not adoptee RIGHTS legislation, and should not be called such. It is an admission that adoptees have no rights, which would be across the board, no exceptions, but can only ask permission from Mom and the state to please see their OBC. It may be search and reunions legislation, which some would support as their main goal, and I can understand that, but do not say it is about rights when it is not. A “Right” applies to all in a named group. Blacks, Gays, Women, Adoptees. If it does not apply to all it should not be called a right. Clear enough? Some laws for various groups pass that help some of that group, and may be a good thing for some, but they are not “rights” laws. “Rights” either apply to all in a class or it is not a right but a privilege granted by the state and Mom. A right stands on its own. A privilege can be taken away. You HAVE a right. Someone GIVES you a privilege or favor.

I would be a little less upset about badly compromised adoptee access legislation if those supporting it were honest and did not refer to it as “adoptee rights” or “adoptee birthright” legislation, because it is not. Such legislation admits this is not about civil or human rights for all adoptees, but about granting a favor to some. Call it “search and reunion” legislation, or “something is better than nothing legislation” but don’t say it is about rights. There are no “Rights Lite”.

The point has been made that “99%” of adoptees will still be able to get their OBC because only 1% mothers will file vetoes, so what’s the harm?

Another point also made is that “adoptees are dying” in large numbers without being reunited or getting their medical history because mean people like BN insist on only clean bills. There is also a lot of sentimentality about senior citizen adoptees, as if they mattered more than the rest or deserved more.

These assertions are distortions and exaggerations. Even if your point of view is about reunions, not rights, certainly more than 1% of birthmothers do not welcome contact, based on the experience of search results for many years, Yes, a majority want to be found, but nothing in
the real world indicates that high a majority. Self-selected surveys are skewed, always. And surrendering mothers gave up all rights over the adoptee, why give us rights we never had and mostly do not want with veto laws?

As far as search and reunion go, something I totally favor as a personal choice, there are so many ways to search and reunite now that do not depend on legally obtaining an OBC that very few adoptees who want to search actually die without finding. The OBC is not the one golden key to reunion. Sadly some of those who do have the OBC or all the information on it, never find their families either, because the information was all false at the time of surrender so is
useless for searching. Many adoptees who have already reunited still would like the right to their OBC, as would some who have no intention of searching. Search, reunion, medical and agency records access just further cloud and obscure the issue of adoptee rights to their own original birth certificate, to do with as they please.

I would ask the proponents of various kinds of compromised legislation to stop calling it adoptee rights, and stop promising to go and fix laws that you cannot or will not fix. Tell people up front, what you see with a compromised bill is what you get, for decades to come, and some adoptees will be left out. You don’t know how many, but be upfront if what you care about is even a few adoptees getting their OBC now, not adoptee rights. If you think that legislation that cuts out some adoptees is ok because other adoptees get their OBC, say so, don’t be crying crocodile tears about how you would really rather have clean legislation, BUT…….

Some of this is of course my opinion. But keep in mind two facts, not opinions. Several states HAVE passed clean legislation, despite the heavy obstacles. No compromised adoptee access legislation has ever been revisited and fixed to be a true adoptee rights law. Make what you will of that, but remember it when you decide what to do legislatively and what to support.

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6 Replies to “A Modest Proposal: Guest Blogger Maryanne Cohen”

  1. Excellent analysis. I wonder how they will respond.

    Rights, not favors, is something everyone ought to be able to get behind whether they’re primally wounded or plugged up the arse by a unicorn.

  2. Thank you for this post. It makes everything much clearer to me. So much out there seems very conflicting.

    I do wonder if the lack of success in revisiting bills to fine tune them or fix them to get what people really wanted in the first place is unique to adoption related matters or is this generally the case for legistlarion that’s in need of repair?

  3. I’m not sure how much fine-tuning is done but some people defend incrementalism by claiming the gay rights movement took baby steps toward acceptance so why shouldn’t adoptees? This is misleading. What the gay movement did was focus on specific areas of discrimination. Job and housing discrimination were generally tackled first; marriage rights came later. But there was no compromise and no incrementalism when it came to *rights* per se.

    With adoptees, discrimination primarily involves access to one vital record. The field is narrower but the rights are not.

    Arsenic Unicorn

  4. Thanks for articulating that, Arsenic Unicorn! Yes, adoptee rights is about one piece of paper other citizens can get on demand for a small fee that adopted citizens are denied. Any legal discrimination against adoptees, difficulty getting a passport, proving citizenship; stem from lack of access to the OBC.

    It is a narrow issue, and in the real world, a small one to the general public and to legislators. Realistically we do not have the numbers like gay rights or minority civil rights to have the clout those groups have, nor do we have the money to hire lobbyists like corporate interests. No matter how many people are affected by adoption, most do not care enough to get involved.

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