For some it is an agonizing and thankless political decision to make: moving forward with compromised legislation that will unseal original birth certificates at the expense of the “left behind.” And if this interests you and you already know what I mean by the “left behind,” you can skip my next paragraph. Why? I started writing these posts with the hope of educating people who are interested in or new to adoptee rights but don’t know a whole lot about specific issues (take my wife, for instance, or her friends and family with whom she shares my posts). Thus, some explanation first.
The “left behind” is an adoptee activist term. It is used to refer to adult adoptees in some states who are nominally “given” the right to access their original birth certificates, only to have that access denied by a birth parent who doesn’t want the information released. This is known informally as the “disclosure veto,” a decision in which a birth parent says “nope, you cannot release the truth to my child.” In the political and legislative fight to declassify original birth certificates, new laws (and some laws nearly forty years old) have created the disclosure veto. These laws allow open access to the vast majority of adoptees, at the expense of a tiny few (basically, less than one percent). Thus, once passed, compromised legislation with disclosure vetoes negatively affects a small number of adoptees, the so-called “left behind” who, despite newly opened records for most adoptees, still cannot get their own original birth certificates.
I want to know what happens to adoptees who are “left behind.” No matter your politics as an adoptee, adoption activist, or a human who cares for other humans, we need to address that adoptees will be left behind. And I want to know what we can do to prevent it and, if possible, to rectify it. I have some loosely thought out ideas and encourage others to think about and develop more.
- Pass Clean Bills. Uhh, doh. It is the obvious priority. Avoid creating a separate and unequal class of adoptees by passing legislation that provides everyone unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. Period.
- Develop an Actual Full-Blown Strategy. It seems the answer to what happens to the left behind, at least currently, is specifically this: nothing. That’s a huge problem. If it is part of your political and legislative strategy to sacrifice some adoptees for the benefit of the privileged, at least have some lasting and proactive strategy to address those you sacrifice. And it’s not enough to say, well, we’ll just have to come back later and amend the law again to take care of that leftover business. While technically a possibility, that strategy is unlikely to deliver anything else substantive for many years. Similarly, if it’s your strategy to kill legislation that contains disclosure vetoes, what’s the full-out strategy for the vastly larger number of adoptees who won’t get any access at all? Just like the so-called deformers, you are in the same boat, and I’ll repeat the promise that this boat floats upon: a promise to come back again. Which is roughly but not entirely the same as Not. Going. To. Happen. So what is a full-blown strategy that includes the reality of the left behind?
- Legal Advocacy. In some ways, a disclosure veto clarifies and narrows the overall legal issues. Currently, activists are arguing to legislators and to the public about whose rights should prevail when an adoptee receives truthful information that ultimately identifies a birth parent. With a disclosure veto, exercised by a birth parent, suddenly you have a much narrower and clarified legal issue: whose very specifically identified rights should prevail in a court of law? Should it be the right to truth, identity, and civic equality or the “right to privacy” of birth parents? Legislatively, it’s been a mixed bag, for all sorts of reasons, but probably most of all because a rights-focused argument resonates in vastly different ways among all sorts of folks. But how about putting those rights to a much narrower legal test? The community has plenty of talented and dedicated lawyer-types who could develop legal strategies to challenge in court the use of a disclosure veto. Why not harness that power and create a group or task force (or maybe a special committee with a crappy acronym) that could advise and help local attorneys in challenging the disclosure veto, whenever and wherever it is exercised? If we end up leaving people behind, and we inevitably will as uneven political fights continue to move forward, we need to have a backup strategy other than the politically unrealistic “we can go back later and correct that shit.” Besides, having a core but small team of dedicated activist lawyers may lead to additional legal issues for adoptees that get addressed and pursued in new or novel ways.
- National Website/Data Clearinghouse. You cannot challenge disclosure vetoes legally without having an adoptee mildly pissed off and willing to do something about it. And if people have no idea where to turn after being denied their original birth certificates, then we’ll never get a good and aggrieved client whose case may actually cause a glitch in the matrix. Why not develop an online presence and a national data clearinghouse made up of data and resources shared freely and openly within all adoptee activists? Some are doing this already, like Bastard Nation or a number of the state-oriented advocacy groups. But the statistics may not always be up to date, may be heavily guarded or hard to find, or may be limited in scope based on geography or the particular political bent of the organization (Bastard Nation, for instance, generally only publishes data from their bastardized states). There should be an open, accurate, and comprehensive set of data and resources that remain transparently gathered and readily distributed. And, in doing so, it may give adoptees left behind information about where to go to find resources and to challenge a disclosure veto.
These are, of course, just some ideas. And ideas from someone new to the fight and not ignorant of the been there/done that crowd. Because maybe we have been there. But then again, maybe it’s now a different time.