Bastard Nation: the Adoptee Rights Organization
Bastard Nation Testimony in Opposition to SB 91
Indiana Senate Judiciary Committee
January 13, 2016
Submitted by Marley E. Greiner, Executive Chair
Bastard Nation: the Adoptee Rights Organization is the largest adoptee civil rights organization in the United States. We support only full unrestricted access for all adopted persons, to their original birth certificates (OBC). We do not support any restrictions such as the Affidavit of Non-Disclosure/Disclosure Vetoes (DV), Contact Vetoes (CV), white-outs, or any other form of redaction or restricted access to a true copy of the original birth certificate.
We oppose passage of SB 91 and urge it be rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Our testimony is divided in three parts (1) general comments regarding sealed OBCs, and privacy v anonymity, (2) the consequences of continued OBC sealing and (3) specific objections to SB 91
Privacy v anonymity in OBC Access
Unrestricted OBC access is not a “privacy” issue. There is no evidence in any state that OBCs were sealed to “protect” the reputation or “privacy” of biological parents who relinquished children for adoption. On the contrary, records were sealed to protect the reputations of “bastard children” and to protect adoptive families from birthparent interference.
”Privacy” and”anonymity” are not synonymous either legally or linguistically. Moreover, courts have ruled that adoption anonymity does not exist. (Doe v Sundquist, and Does v Oregon Summary Judgment). Laws change constantly, and the state, lawyers, social workers, and others were never in a position to promise anonymity in adoption. In fact, in the over 40 years of the adoptee rights battle, not one document has been submitted anywhere that promises or guarantees sealed records and an anonymity “right” to birthparents.
Identifying information about surrendering parents often appears in court documents given to adoptive parents who can at any point give that information to the adopted person. The names of surrendering parents are published in legal ads. Courts can open “sealed records” for “good cause.” Critically, the OBC is sealed at the time of adoption finalization, not surrender. If a child is not adopted, the record is never sealed. If a child is adopted, but the adoption is overturned or disrupted, the OBC is unsealed. In some states, including Indiana, adoptive parents can request the court at the time of adoption finalization to keep the document unsealed.
We are well into the 21st century. The information superhighway grows wider and longer each day, and adoptees and their birth and adoptive families are riding it, utilizing the Internet, social media, inexpensive and accessible DNA testing services, and a large network of volunteer “search angels” to locate their government-hidden information and histories.
Thousands of successful adoption searches happen each year—hundreds in Indiana alone—making adoption secrecy virtually impossible. The minuscule number of birthparents or so-called “professional experts” who believe that restricted OBC access or no access equals adoption anonymity are greatly mistaken. The fact is, nearly all successful searches are done without the OBC .Legislation needs to catch up with technological reality.
Consequences of Continued OBC Sealing
Critically, in this age of heightened security, the government requires all of us to prove our identities and citizenship– a legal paper trail of identity. As a result, adopted persons without an OBC are in danger of losing even more rights than just their OBC access. US-born adoptees report increased problems in obtaining driver’s licenses, passports, professional certifications, Social Security benefits, pensions and security clearances due to what government bureaucrats refer to as “irregularities” in their amended birth certificates issued by Indiana and all other states, and are demanding the OBC as proof of citizenship and identity.
A major irregularity is a “late birth certificate“ filed a year or more after the birth of a child. Late filing is caused by various factors: delayed adoption, multiple/disrupted adoption, older child and foster care placement, and bureaucratic slowness. Until recently, states required that children live with their adoptive parent(s) for about a year before the adoption was finalized; thus a new amended birth certificate was issue “late”
According to the US Department of State a “late birth certificate” may only be accepted for passport application if it lists the documentation used to create it and is signed by the attending physician or midwife, or, lists an affidavit signed by the parents, or shows early public records indicating the birth. Obviously, in the case of sealed records adoption, this requirement is impossible to meet. Reportedly, some states are now backdating the filing date of amended birth certificates to “keep up” with federal requirements; thus creating an even larger legal fiction regarding adoptees’ births than now exists.
Other “irregularities” include age discrepancies between parents and child, missing information, and irregular signatures (ex: typed rather than signed). This problem will grow with the increase in adoption of older children from foster care, adoptions by same sex couples, Real lD, and other government “security” requirements.
Objections to SB 91
SB 91 is not an adoptee rights bill. It is a flawed bill that does nothing to address the right of all Indiana-born adoptees to access their own original birth certificates, without restriction or condition upon request. Instead of offering a simple non-bureaucratic access procedure, the bill expands an already over sized bureaucracy placing burdensome “legal” obligations and requirements on adoptees, birthparents and adoptive parents. (Under current law, these obligations and requirements are mandated for only some) The bill, in fact, doesn’t even allow for OBC release, only release of information taken from the certificate! .
- SB 91 does not align with OBC laws in states that provide unrestricted and unconditional access. (Kansas, Alaska, Oregon, Alabama, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island) where only a notarized request to their state health department or vital statistics office with an ID, and a nominal fee will get adoptees their OBCs.
- SB 91 allows only for the release of “identifying information” compiled by a state employee from the OBC. Even that second hand information can be withheld if the adoptee’s birthparent(s) and in some cases their adoptive parents fail to register with the Indiana Adoption Medical History Registry (ISMHR) or if a birthparent, who has no legal standing regarding the adoption, requests the state to withhold that information. The birthparent(s) also has the option to tell the state to withhold identifying information after their death. They can also withhold this information from siblings who have indicated to the IAMHR they want that information. Access states that ran adoption registries, which decades ago may have served a purpose, have closed them due to lack of use. .
- No genuine ‘access state” has a registry requirement or other burdensome requirement for OBC access. (see point 1) Qualifying for a registry and subsequently being “allowed” to view the OBC is not the same as releasing the OBC to adoptees. The registry requirement, conflates search and reunion with civil rights—the personal with the political. No one requires a non-adopted person to sign on to a state-operated registry or database or jump through hoops to acquire their own birth certificates. Access to our OBCs is about enjoying equal treatment, not special obligations and requirements to do so.
- Finally, a genuine OBC access law does not contain a Disclosure Veto now misnamed in SB 91 as a non-disclosure statement/non-release/contact preference form. (CPF) A genuine CPF simply offers an option to a birthparent to state a preference for contact: yes, no, or through an intermediary. It does not stop the release of the OBC nor does the contact preference hold legal teeth regarding contact,
There is no state interest in keeping original birth certificates sealed from the adoptees to which they pertain. Nor does the state have a right or duty to mediate and oversee the personal relationships of adults. Those who claim a statutory right to parental anonymity through sealed records or though restricted access to them promote statutory privilege and state favoritism. Unfortunately SB 91 sends a message to the state’s adopted people and the public that adult adoptees cannot be trusted with their birth records, genealogy, social histories, and relationships. We do not believe that this is the message that the adoption-friendly state of Indiana wants to promulgate.
Please VOTE NO on1 SB 91, and come back with a clean bill that provides unrestricted and unconditional OBC access for all Indiana adoptees.