On November 9, 2023, The Michigan House voted 99-8 to restore the right of all Michigan-born adoptees to obtain their OBCs without restrictions or conditions. The bill was introduced less than one month ago and is fast-tracking. It is now in the Senate.
I will blog about Michigan in a day or so, but in the meantime, here is the letter of support that Bastard Nation sent to both houses.
.Bastard Nation: the Adoptee Rights Organization
P.O. Box 4607
New Windsor, New York 12553-7845
bastards.org 614-795-6819 @BastardsUnite
October 31, 2023
Rep. Kristian Grant
Rep. Pat Outman
Anderson House Office Building 1
24 North Capitol Avenue
Lansing, MI 48933
RE: Letter of Support for HB5148 and HB5149
Dear Rep. Grant and Rep Outman:
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) and related documents.
We support HB5148 a “clean bill” that allows all Michigan-born adoptees, their descendants or legal representatives to obtain the adoptee’s original birth certificate without restrictions or conditions upon request at the age of 18, The bill contains a voluntarily optional Contact Preference Form which allows biological parents to record if the would like contact, but does not control the release of the OBC.
We support HB5149 which eliminates current court and Central Adoption Registry control over the release of the OBC. It retains biological parent denial of identifying information requests already on file, BUT that request does not restrict OBC access. No release vetoes can be filed after July 1, 2024.
These bills are tie-barred and neither bill can be enacted into law without the enactment of the other.
Civil Rights, Privacy, and the Balance of Rights
HB5148 and HB5149 are not about search and reunion, though search and reunion can result. The bill is about civil rights.
We often hear the term “balance of rights” in the OBC debate. That can be a legitimate debate in cases where an actual conflict of rights among parties exists. In the case of OBC rights, however the only rights involved are those of tens of thousands adopted Michiganders who are legally barred from obtaining the genuine unaltered record of their birth. Barred from obtaining a public record-–an intimate public record–that is about them and their origins. Barred from obtaining a pubic record with their name on it. These thousands of people are not abstracts. The adopted are everywhere. You probably know some ho will personally benefit from passage of HB5148 and HB5149: family members, co-workers, friends, neighbors, constituents who want—and need—you to support them.
Rights and interests are not equal. A few birthparents might argue a “right” to birthparent anonymity, but courts have ruled that there no such right, (see below). Third parties with their own political and social agendas might claim an ”interest” in keeping OBCs out of the hands of adoptees, but that is far from a right—only an opinion.“Rights” trump “interests.”
The idea that a person can be barred from the true record of their birth due to the circumstances of their birth or the status of their family is absurd and unjust. The Adopted and the Not Adopted have an absolute right to obtain the official state record of their own birth and no third party–parent or not–has the “right” or the standing to legally bar that access. Parental rights of birthparents were voluntarily relinquished years ago or were terminated by a court. After termination, those parents had no say in the disposition of the child or the records. Even if there were such a parental “right” to bar one’s adult offspring from obtaining their birth certificate, it would not exist in the case of adoption.
Adoption Privacy Overview
Unrestricted OBC access is not a “privacy” or “birthparent confidentiality” issue. “Privacy” “confidentiality,” and” anonymity” are not synonymous either legally or linguistically. “Anonymity “is a myth perpetuated by special interests that for decades have profited off of economic distress and society-induced shame and family crisis. In many cases, adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem that has not only individual but generational consequences.
There is no evidence in any state that records were sealed to “protect” the reputation or “privacy” of biological parents who relinquished children for adoption. On the contrary, records were sealed to cover coercive child acquisition practices by adoption agencies, black and gray market baby dealers, exploitative assembly line maternity homes, and other corrupt systems. Numerous historical and legal researchers and writers have shown that OBCs were never intended to be sealed in perpetuity from individual adoptees as adults. At “best” sealed OBCs were billed as a way to protect the reputations of “bastard children” (not adults) and to protect adoptive families from birthparent and stranger interference; in other words to “protect the integrity of the adoptive family.” These documents were first sealed from the public, then the parties to the adoption, and eventually to adopted people themselves. What was once an outlier practice has now been normalized through a mix of myth and “tradition” and treated like ”the way it’s always been.”
Courts , however, have ruled that adoption anonymity does not exist. (Doe v Sundquist, et. al., 943 F. Supp. 886, 893-94 (M.D. Tenn. 1996) and Does v. State of Oregon, 164 Or. App. 543, 993 P.2d 833, 834 (1999). Laws change constantly, and the state, lawyers, social workers, and others were never in a position to promise anonymity in adoption. In the over 60 years of the adoptee equality 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. (In some states adoptive parents, at the time of the adoption order, can petition the court to keep the record open.) The names of surrendering parents are published in legal ads. Courts can open “sealed records” for “good cause” without birthparent consent or even knowledge. 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. The OBCs of persons with established relationships with biological parents as in stepparent and foster adoptions are also sealed.
The American Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys agrees with this assessment. In a major about face, in 2018 it passed a monumental resolution in support of adoptees’ right to full access to our OBCs court, and agency records.
Privacy and Technology
Today, inexpensive and accessible DNA testing services, and a large network of volunteer “search angels” that locate adoptee government-hidden information, histories, and biological families, has made the traditional “privacy” argument obsolete. The minuscule number of birthparents or professionals who believe that restricted OBC/records access or no access equals adoption anonymity are greatly mistaken. Nearly all successful searches are done without the OBC and other court documents.
OBC access is not about search and reunion Many adopted people are not interested in pursuing those. Instead, access is about obtaining our state-generated and held document of our birth, something the Not Adopted obtain without a second thought.
There is no state interest in keeping original birth certificates sealed from adult adoptees to which they pertain nor does the state have a right or duty to mediate and oversee the personal relationships of adults. The debate on the release of OBCs to its adopted citizens is a small v large government issue. Small government should win this one.
Adopted people in 14 states have unrestricted access to their OBCs and your neighbor Minnesota will unseal OBCs s on July 1, 2024. Not one single negative report about unsealing has been published. Access has been normalized. Adoptees are treated just like the Not Adopted, and like the Not Adopted, no one denies that they have a right to their own birth document.
I’ve been involved in the adoptee rights movement for 40 years, and Michigan has always been known as a hard state—one of the most difficult in the country for its adoptees to penetrate Please vote Do Pass on HB5148 and HB5148 as written. It’s the right thing to do. Thank you
Marley E Greiner
Originally posted on the Bastard Nation website, November 12, 2023
(No, it will never be X!)