Op-ed: Connecticut: Restore the rights of adult adoptees

It’s time for Connecticut to join the growing ranks of states that are restoring the right of adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates.

Connecticut should re-establish every adoptee’s right to their heritage, their ancestry, their current medical history and their very identity, a right that the state has been depriving us of since 1975.

Before 1975, every adult adoptee had the right to obtain a copy their original, true birth certificate upon reaching the age of majority. (Adoptees have two birth certificates: a true, original birth certificate created at the time of birth, and a false, substitute birth certificate created later that states that their adoptive parents are their biological parents.)

As archaic as it sounds now, the dual birth certificate system was enacted to protect the adoptee from the stigma of illegitimacy. “Imagine the embarrassment involved when it is obliged to hand a certificate of birth to someone showing the names of its natural parents and goodness knows what the parents record might be.” (Emphasis added) (Quoting Connecticut legislator “Mr. Clark” on HB 636 in the 1930s.)

From about World War II until the 1980s, America conducted a grand social experiment in secrecy and pretense to address the deep shame regarding premarital sex, birth to unwed mothers and the infertility of potential adoptive parents. “We’ll just sweep the facts under the rug and pretend this birth never happened, and that little Suzie and Sam were born to their adoptive parents!”  And Poof!  All would be well. (Think June and Ward Cleaver.)

But as we know from another failed social experiment, denial, secrecy and pretense a la “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” is a recipe for failure. Suzie and Sam grew up and, as it turns out, were rather peeved that no one obtained their consent to permanently amputate them from their family trees. They went to law school. They wrote letters to the CT Mirror.

Adoptees are speaking out now. We aren’t so happy about being treated like chattel. About having our ancestry taken from us in a legal proceeding in which we had no advice of counsel and gave no informed consent. About having the right to our original, true birth certificate until 1975, and then having that right taken from us retroactively. No, we are not happy at all.

Several states including New Hampshire (2007), Maine (2009) and Rhode Island (2011) have enacted access laws restoring adult adoptee rights. Most recently on Dec. 19, 2013, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed Ohio’s access law. At the signing ceremony, he said to Betsie Norris, executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland, “We should have done this 20 years ago.”

We agree, Gov. Kasich. We agree.

Let’s fix this archaic, discriminatory law and restore the right of access to adult adoptees. Many of us are middle-aged and older. It will be cold comfort to get our rights back once we are in our graves. Please do it now Connecticut, while we are still around to thank you.

Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD, of West Hartford is president of Access Connecticut Now, Inc., — www.accessconnecticut.org — a grass-roots organization dedicated to restoring the right, taken in 1975, of adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates.

Note: A hearing on pertinent legislation — HB 5144 before the Public Health Committee — is slated for Friday in Room 1D of the LOB.

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