May 30, 2019
Phone: (518) 455-3791
Dear Speaker Carl E. Heastie:
Once again, the opposition to A5494, the adoptee rights bill, claims that mothers were promised confidentiality; therefore, birth certificates of all adoptees must remain sealed. That argument presumes that all adoptees were born bastards – the products of illicit sex – and all hell would break lose should the bastard adoptee get a hold of the birth certificate that identifies the fallen mother.
The current law was passed in 1936. It is antiquated and focuses on situations that do not address the majority of adoptions today.
My circumstances tell of how the current New York State closed records law of 1936 is unjust not only to adoptees who were born as bastards, but to others who were not born bastards.
I am 63 years old; all 4 of my parents are dead and cannot write to you.
My natural father relinquished me in April 1956, one month after my mother’s death by cancer. I was 4 months old at relinquishment and 3 months old when my mother died.
My parents were married for 10 years and had 4 older children. My father did not want to give me away, but no other options or help was offered to him. The judge told him that he must stay away from me and my adopters. My father was not promised confidentiality, or privacy, or protection from the state, not verbally and not in writing, not ever.
Quite the opposite was true.
My father and the judge were not informed that my deceased natural mother was distantly related to my adopting father. This was a very large extended family who wanted nothing to do with my natural father. Once he was out of the way due to the nature of closed adoption, all of my natural mother’s relatives and all of my adoptive father’s relatives were one big family and had no intention of staying away from each other. They did not inform my father or the judge of this connection. Photos and stories of me were passed back and forth during my childhood. The two families – including my adoptive parents – knew they were going behind the judge’s back by breaking the “no contact” restriction of closed adoption. The court issued my Final Order of Adoption – and my falsified new birth certificate – under the belief that MY privacy would be protected and that I would grow up in a safe and secure home.
The reality was that all of my natural mother’s relatives and my adoptive father’s relatives deemed themselves authorities to invade MY privacy by gossiping about me while I grew up. Then these hypocrites held onto society’s belief that “adoptees must never be told the truth” and that there was some terrible secret that must remain hidden.
My siblings made contact with me in 1974 when I was 18 years old. My adoptive parents, extended adoptive family, and my natural mother’s family were horrified. Why? Because the secret that I was never supposed to know was now out in the open. Their little game was over. I was their pawn.
My father was not aware that communication had been going on for 18 years because he was told to stay away. Had he been kept in the loop, he would have received updates and photos of me – as in today’s open adoption (when it works). Meanwhile, I knew nothing of any of this activity. I was the victim of hundreds of adults, and many of my same age cousins, who took control of my life.
What My Father Would Tell You If He Were Alive Today
If my father were alive today, he would tell you, as he told me: he did not sign any paper that told him he would be promised confidentiality, privacy, and protection from the state. There was no contract of confidentiality. Instead, he was ordered to not interfere in my life and that is a very different message.
The Opposition and Rebuttals
Opposition to the adoptee rights bill A5494 is made under the presumption that mothers are in hiding and are in fear of their secret being exposed.
Opposition to our adoptees rights bill firmly believe that mothers can claim now, decades after signing papers given up their parental rights, that they now must be given the power to redact their names from the birth certificate, or that they must be given the power to say no to contact or to say no for the release of the birth certificate to the adoptee.
When a mother and father sign relinquishment papers, they surrender ALL parental rights to that child. That means the adoption agency, adoption attorneys, the court, the adoptive parents — none of these people or agencies are under any obligation to inform the natural parents that their surrendered infant or child has been moved into foster care, has been adopted, or never has been adopted, is sick and dying, or has died.
When papers are signed giving up parental rights, all rights are terminated. The natural parents have no legal parental rights whatsoever.
No parent under any circumstances has the right to redact their name from their child’s birth certificate. Facts of birth are just that: facts.
Opposition to our adoptees rights bill firmly believe that raped mothers must be protected from ever having their rape known to the adoptee.
Parents who sign relinquishment papers, or whose parental rights were terminated, give up ALL of their parental rights.
When a child becomes an adult, that person is an autonomous being who is not subjected to any parental authority; this includes natural parents who signed away their parental rights upon relinquishment.
A child’s birth certificate remains their birth certificate even after relinquishment. If a child remains in foster care or guardianship, the child’s rights to that birth certificate are never violated.
It is only upon adoption that the child’s birth certificate is revoked, annulled, canceled, and then sealed, and then replaced by a false-fact birth certificate created upon adoption.
If a child is relinquished but never adopted, they maintain their birth certificate – and the names of their parents – for life. The identity of the parents will always be known to the relinquished child, now an adult.
Opposition: Hiding the Identity of Criminal Natural Parents
There is an argument for not releasing a revoked and sealed birth certificate to an adoptee in search if the father or mother is a criminal who murdered or who are guilty of some other extreme crime.
While this seems logical to want to protect adoptees from a violent criminal father or mother, it must be stated that many non-adopted people also have parents who are criminals who are incarcerated. There are many non-adopted people whose parents are mentally incompetent and are institutionalized. These non-adopted people know the conditions that keep their parents in prison or in institutions, but they are not prevented from owning their birth certificates due to the crime committed by their parents or the mental state of their parents.
In the end, the opposition wants us to believe that their concern is keeping the bastards away from their fallen mothers who must be protected and kept anonymous.
It isn’t about being born a bastard. It isn’t about protecting the identities of the “unwed” mothers.
The 1936 New York State law and social attitudes of those times may have implied that fallen women and their bastard babies must be hidden, but since that law was enacted, over the past eight decades ALL adopted people were, and currently are, included in the sealed records law:
- children of divorce are sometimes adopted by step parents
- grandparents adopt their grandchildren
- aunts and uncles adopt their nieces and nephews
- older siblings adopt the youngest sibling
- half and full orphans born of married parents are relinquished and adopted
In ALL of these cases, the adopted person’s actual birth certificate is revoked, sealed, and replaced by a false-fact birth certificate naming the new legal parents as if they sired, gestated, and gave birth to the re-named child. This is fraud!
The opposition would like us all to believe that their fear of being found out should be used to prevent all adoptees access to our revoked and sealed birth certificates.
Their irrational fears have been interfering with the civil and human rights of all adopted people for far too long.
The answer to the oppositions’ cries of confidentiality, privacy, and the perceived need of protection is therapy, not punishing laws.
If the antiquated stigma continues to be used as an excuse to prevent all adoptees access to our revoked and sealed birth certificates, the law will continue to obstruct justice from adoptees, like me, who were born within a marriage and then adopted out. Or adopted by a stepparent. Or adopted by grandparents or other relatives.
I am a Half Orphan Not A Bastard
My mother DIED when I was 3 months old. She died knowing she was my mother. Adoption took official motherhood away from her, and took away my right to the truth of my birth. I am a half orphan, not a bastard! Give me back my authentic birth certificate! Stop playing games with the facts of life!
I Support A5494
I strongly support A5494, an adoptee rights bill that will finally restore equality to adult adoptees in New York. I ask you to bring this bill to the Codes Committee agenda as soon as possible. The bill has overwhelming bipartisan support in the Assembly and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate where it is expected to pass. This bill is a direct result of the Governor’s veto of regressive legislation in December of 2017 and his subsequent mandated work group.
Please do not give the opposition any more stalling time. Adoptee activists and mothers-of-adoption-loss who are fighting with us have been working hard for many decades for adoptee justice to access our revoked and sealed birth certificates.
The time is now. Please move this bill forward to the enactment of A5494.
Please let me know your position on this issue.
Doris Michol Sippel
(formerly known as Joan Mary Wheeler)