by Julie Stromberg
When the adoption of a child is finalized in the United States, the adoptee’s original birth certificate is altered (amended) to list the adoptive parents as if they are the adoptee’s biological parents. No indication is provided on the amended birth certificate that an adoption took place. The adoptee’s original, factual birth certificate is then sealed away and no longer considered the legal record of birth.
Currently, only six states grant adoptees access to their original birth certificates upon reaching adulthood. Alaska and Kansas have never sealed the original birth certificates of adoptees. Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Alabama have legally restored equal access to adult adoptees.
Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Illinois now allow access with minimal restrictions.
This is in sharp contrast to many other industrialized countries, which provide adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates as a matter of right. Here in the United States, however, adult adoptees are treated differently under law to non-adopted adults simply because they were adopted as children.
When it comes to the legalities of adoption and the altering of an adoptee’s birth certificate, it seems that everyone involved is expected to make compromises. Natural parents compromise, as they are erased from their own child’s legal birth certificate. Adoptive parents compromise by legally pretending that they gave birth to a person they did not. Adoptees compromise by being expected to simply accept that their original identity was legally erased and a new one was created for them.
This is a lot of compromising that must be done as a result of amending birth certificates in adoption. And I wonder if these compromises are absolutely necessary so that a child can be cared for, and raised by, people other than those who created and gave birth to him or her?
Of course, the answer is no. It is not necessary to alter an adoptee’s birth certificate in order for an adoption to occur. Adoptive parents become the legal guardians of the adoptee through the Adoption Decree issued upon finalization.
As such, there is simply no legal reason to also change an adoptee’s birth certificate so that it contains false information. One could argue that empowering everyone involved in adoption with the truth would require no compromises involving the adoptee’s official birth record.
Currently, however, there are three key legal compromise measures when it comes to access legislation:
Disclosure veto. A natural parent desiring anonymity can take measures to ensure that the adoptee does not obtain his or her original birth certificate. This form of compromise places the personal preferences of some (natural parents who do not desire contact with their children) over the legal rights of all adult adoptees.
Confidential intermediaries. While the state does not grant access to the original birth certificate, an adoptee can pay the state or adoption agency a fee and a person holding the position of confidential intermediary will contact the natural parents. If the natural parents tell the confidential intermediary that they do not desire contact with their sons or daughters, the transaction ends there.
Black-out years. A state will sometimes allow some adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates based on the year they were born or adopted.
It is my feeling that none of these measures truly represent a compromise. They all result in adult adoptees continuing to be treated differently under law to non-adopted adults. While I am more than willing to consider the view of others and welcome compromise that respects all involved, I am not a compromise person when it comes to the rights of adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates.
New Hampshire currently offers adult adoptees access to their original birth certificate and natural parents a contact preference form. I consider this arrangement to be respectful of both parties while not requiring anyone to compromise. The adult adoptee receives equal treatment under law to non-adopted adults and the natural parent is able to express his or her contact preferences.
Equal rights are about equality. The measures outlined above do not represent any sort of mutually respectful compromise and result in persistent, continual inequity and differential treatment for adults who were adopted as children.
We as a society need to discuss why the truth continues to be compromised in adoption. Aren’t adopted children and adult adoptees at least worth their own truths?
Julie Stromberg is an adult adoptee and serves on the board of Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights and the Adoptee Rights Coalition. She writes about the adoptee experience as Co-Editor, Contributor, & Media Columnist of the collaborative blog of adopted women, Lost Daughters, and on her personal blog, Life, Adopted.