2011 has been a significant year for adoption reform.
On May 9th, NJ-CARE made history by getting adoptee access legislation through both houses. After witnessing all that’s involved in politics in New Jersey, the dual passage was nothing short of herculean. All that remained to make access a reality was the governor’s signature. Governor Christie had 45 days to respond. He conditionally vetoed the bill on the very last day he could do so, timing his decision to coincide with a hotly debated bill regarding unions, effectively burying any response to the birthright legislation on the back pages of local papers. It was heartbreaking to watch – and yet inspirational as NJ-CARE regrouped this fall to begin anew.
On July 1st, unlike NJ’s Christie, Rhode Island’s governor Lincoln Chafee courageously signed legislation which will give all RI adoptees their OBC’s at the age of 25. While the age is problematic (if society believes an 18 year old is responsible enough to fight a war, why must they be 25 to receive their own birth certificate?), the bottom line is all adopted citizens will finally have access starting July 1, 2012. With only Vermont and Connecticut (and the sandwich in Massachusetts) to go, New England is poised to be the first region where adopted citizens have equal access in the US.
And on November 15th, the state of Illinois enacted the last phase of their adoptee birthright legislation, opening the door for all adult adopted citizens to apply for their original birth certificates. On this one single day, more records became available (350,000 including the original pre-1946 release in 2012) than in all other states which have reversed sealed records laws combined. Because of a limited budget due to a state financial crisis, only two people are handling the thousands of requests that have come in. While the process is slow, and the inability to have an ‘opening day’ akin to Maine or New Hampshire was disappointing (not all records are electronic or centralized, so such an event was impossible), the enactment was momentous. A game changer. While there have been many naysayers, the bottom line is that ALL Illinois adopted citizens will receive something. If a birthparent wishes to remain anonymous (320 have thus far requested this out of a total of 350,000 sealed records) their name will be redacted, but the record will still be released. The adoptee will, in essence, receive a private communication from their birth parent with this redaction – for whatever reason, it is not a good time to reconnect. Far better to receive this, than to have a state clerk say ‘no’ to all adoptees. If there is no record of birth at all (which is the case for not only some obc’s but also for records of some non-adopted citizens, particularly those born in rural areas) the adopted citizen will at least learn that. Having witnessed folks at the moment they have received their Illinois birth certificate, its hard not to applaud this complicated bill. It is getting the job done.
I have had difficulty understanding those who attack the people who have been down in the pits fighting for this access. There’s always a presumption that those who work legislation which has become laden with compromises of redactions, age limits, and contact vetoes are copouts, that they are foolish or weak or worse – that they aren’t interested in unlimited access for all. It’s crazy, and nothing could be further from the truth. It is so easy to stand on the sidelines and shout about access for all – those are just words. But it’s action that counts if there’s going to be change. People of action were responsible this year for kicking the ball way down the field.
To all those who fight the legislative battles, thank you for making 2011 an extraordinary year. If the naysayers had their way, not one record would have been released in 2011. Instead – hundreds of thousands of adoptees now have the ability to apply for their obc – and THAT is something to celebrate.