Saturday, February 27, 2010

A little about me, my cause and how you can help

I’m 40 years old and was born and adopted in the state of Ohio. Growing up, I’d always known I was adopted – my adoptive parents (especially my mother) never made a secret of the fact that I was adopted. I was even read books about adoption at bedtime. In general, I didn’t think it was anything to feel shame about and while I was curious about my birth parents and fantasized about what they might be like, I don’t recall the issue being a defining point of my being.

However, as I entered my 30’s I started to feel quite a bit more interest in the subject. For some reason, I’d always assumed that when and if I decided to learn who my birth parents were, that it would be a comparatively simple matter to resolve. Well, like most adoptees, I was in for a big disappointment. In case you haven’t heard (as I hadn’t), most states in the U.S. (including Ohio) have sealed the birth records of adoptees. I was literally in my late 20’s before I realized my birth certificate was unique. In fact, I’d been issued an “amended” birth certificate which had been cleaned of all identifying information pertaining to my birth name and the names of my birth parents. As I dug deeper, I learned that my original, un-amended birth certificate, while on file within the Ohio State Government, was by law, unavailable to me. Needless to say, this was rather frustrating. I next turned to reunion registries at the state, national and international levels. These didn’t help much with the frustration. About this time, I learned of ALMA. While ALMA is sincerely concerned for adoptees, I didn’t make much headway through them or their “angel searchers” (people who assist adoptees with genealogical research for free). Under ALMA’s guidance, I did approach my adoption agency for additional non-identifying information and did learn quite a bit more about my biological family, though, of course the agency wouldn’t break the law and provide sufficient information to complete my search. In the years since, I tried paid searchers, who did little else than take the pay I provided, and several more angel searchers who failed to make any progress.

A few years ago, I decided that there was a root cause that needed resolution. The laws themselves needed to be changed. I was motivated by a number of efforts I found online including Bastard Nation and the American Adoption Congress. These groups seemed to be fighting to change the laws in their own distinctive ways. After spending some time interacting with the people involved in these efforts, I learned that I was only just getting introduced to a fight that has been waging for decades in state legislatures. It is not unusual to find dedicated people who have been attempting to change the laws, not once or twice, but up to six times over 12 years. Most often their efforts end in defeat. A few shining examples of progress can be found in states like Oregon, but the vast majority of the United States have stubbornly and unjustly kept the birth records of adoptees sealed since WWII.

As I learned that adoption law was the domain of states, I ultimately found that Ohio has one of the strangest set of laws enacted with respect to adoptees. Adoptees born before 1964 have unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. Adoptees born after 1996 can access their birth records if the birth parents didn’t file a denial-of-access form with the state. However, adoptees born between 1964 and 1996 are simply denied all access to their records. The ultimate irony of my search was to learn that the man most directly responsible for the sealing of adoptee birth records in Ohio, William B Norris, had actually testified multiple times before the state assembly that his actions were a mistake and that he never intended to deny adoptees access to their own records. Mr. Norris was a young attorney in the early 1960’s who’d adopted children of his own. He was surprised to learn that his childrens’ birth records were publicly available to anyone and so took it upon himself to champion legislation to seal the records. It was only later when his own adopted children sought the truth of their origins that he realized the unintended consequences of his action. To his credit, Mr. Norris fought to change the law many times before his recent death. His daughter Betsie continues the cause in Ohio today. Her latest effort is Adoption Equity Ohio (, which is attempting to open the last of the sealed records. The current hope is that the rules that apply to the post-1996 adoptees can be retroactively applied to the 1964-1996 adoptees who currently have no recourse.

I am now doing what I can to help Adoption Equity Ohio successfully pass a bill into law that will restore for my fellow Ohio adoptees and I the birthright that has been taken from us: access to our original birth certificates.

Won’t you please help? Most of what will be needed will be people willing to contact members of the Ohio State Assembly to let them know that this legislation MUST get passed into law. You can put your values into action by going to the Adoption Equity Ohio website and filling out the volunteer form. Additionally, you can help by spreading the word and pointing your adoptee and Ohioan friends to the site.

This is a challenging effort that will require the support of many people. However, if you will help spread the word and participate, Adoption Equity Ohio can succeed in correcting an injustice that has stood for far too long.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

First post

My goal here is to inspire others to action and to do what I can to facilitate a change in Ohio law that will restore the birthright of every Ohio adoptee: unconditional access to their original birth certificates.