Compromising On Adoptee Access? The Foot You Shoot May Be Your Own

I wrote this as a response to the news that Missouri has enacted a compromise bill for adult adoptee original birth certificate (OBC) access. I really wish people would understand that compromise legislation is a ploy to get us to shut up and go away. You never know if you yourself may be the one vetoed out of your own rights.
If you are thinking of supporting a bill, please understand what these compromises actually mean. Insist upon clean bills, every time, no exceptions.
What I said was:
While I appreciate all the hard work those involved have done to enact this bill [in Missouri], baby steps and compromises are not a fair solution. So-called “disclosure vetoes” such as the one in this new MO law require adoptees to get approval from their birth mothers before they can have their original birth certificates. Disclosure vetoes are sometimes phrased as “contact preferences”, but if it is binding on adoptees and prevents them from accessing their OBCs, it’s a veto.
This is unequal and a blow to the civil rights of adoptees. No one else needs such approval. The fact is that “baby steps” end up stopping at step one. No state that has enacted compromise legislation like this has ever revisited it. The legislators consider it a done deal and don’t want to revisit. Speaking from experience, a system like this does NOT work. The people typically in charge of it are often political allies of those who enact it. In other words, it’s a way to make money off adoptees, again. For example in Illinois the people who run the program are political allies of the legislator who enacted it, and make six figure salaries off babysitting adoptees and their birth families.
Compromise legislation is neither right nor fair. ALL citizens, regardless of adoptive status, deserve the same equal treatment. That means ALL adult adoptees should be able to access their original birth certificates in the same manner, and for the same reasonable fees, as everyone else.
Forgive me but this strikes close to home. I am an adult adoptee who has been denied her original birth certificate because of Illinois’ disclosure veto. I personally could not look at myself in the mirror if I got my OBC via a law that meant the adoptees in front of or behind me were unable to get theirs. We must all stand together and insist upon our civil rights instead of falling for cleverly-worded “solutions”. This is a political gimmick to lure you into thinking you are restoring your rights when you are really shooting yourself (and others) in the foot. Please think about and understand what compromise legislation means. It means you get your information at someone else’s expense. It means you yourself could very easily be the one left behind. You won’t know until you try to access your OBC and discover that you’re one of the “small percentage” that got bit by a veto.
It is perfectly possible to enact clean legislation. Other states like Maine have done it. You have to take the higher ground, insist on clean bills, and kill the bill if it is amended with a disclosure veto. South Dakota just went through that and I admire the South Dakota SEAL group for vowing to kill the bill they worked so hard for if it was compromised.
For every state that enacts a compromise, it makes it that much more difficult to enact clean legislation elsewhere. This is why we have not made more progress in opening records, because people are willing to fall for these compromises. Working together is paramount. Access must be equal, across the board. I have no problem with true contact preferences, those that allow birth families to state their preference while still allowing the adoptee to obtain his/her OBC (versus a binding veto, whatever it might be called). The notion that such preferences must be binding assumes that all adoptees are potential stalkers, which is demeaning and discriminatory. There is a vast difference between search/reunion and the right to one’s identity. The former is a decision that families must make among themselves. The latter should be a basic right of all human beings. Missouri’s bill is a tragedy for those who will be left behind.
One thing I would like to mention is that I do actually have a problem with true contact preferences (those that are not binding on the adoptee). Namely, that is that it is too easy for what begins as a “preference” to become a binding veto. Politicians are confused as to the difference between a contact preference and a disclosure veto. See the recent South Dakota decision on HB 1223 for an example of that. But I would rather see an otherwise clean bill pass with a nonbinding preference than a binding veto.


  1. Excellent! You hit the nail on the head and put this in perspective as usual. The contact veto is a game changer because it singles out a small group of people for legally sanctioned discrimination.

    I dislike “sandwich” legislation almost as much as legislation that contains a legally binding veto. But I see a way to make that work.

    While I very much hope to stop abuses going forward and would compromise my own access to make that happen, it’s impossible to justify incremental change without some kind of guarantee that the change IS incremental rather than a final deal. If such a bill can be structure in such a way that everyone’s rights will be taken into consideration eventually, I’ll listen.

    If someone proposed a sandwich bill as a compromise and was willing to insert a sunset provision that meant the restrictions on those singled out to be denied access would expire at some point, e.g. in 2 years, I could buy that.

    Certainly that gives anyone who needs to hide from the truth time to find a new hiding place. And I don’t think that includes very many mothers. It may include some agencies who need to shut their doors or move their operations off shore.

  2. Triona,

    I have great respect for you and of course totally gee that “Compromise legislation is neither right nor fair.” We deserve full euqality.

    I also understand that many adoptees share your view on compromise.

    However, unless you have worked in that state and on the committees you do not know what went on.

    I live in NJ where people have worked their ASSES off for THIRTY YEARS and cannot get even a compromised bill through and yes, they would accept whatever they could get at this point.

    I find it very unfair for those who do not put in the legwork day and night for years on end to complain about results.

    I also disagree that major issues have not changed incrementally. History shows us quite the opposite. One foot in the door is better than a locked sealed shut door IMHO.

  3. AdoptAuthor–I have great respect for you also, and I appreciate your sharing your opinion. I think we might have to agree to disagree on this one. I have put in my legwork on adoption reform; not for thirty years but enough to understand the struggles. I might be more willing to consider compromises if, like Pennagal suggests, there were specific deadlines set to revisit the issue. What concerns me are the empty promises of “oh, we’ll get to it later” that are never fulfilled.

    In my opinion, the door isn’t locked sealed shut as long as there is not a bill on the books yet. There is still a chance to reform. Once compromise legislation is enacted, unless there is some kind of sunset/revision clause it is next to impossible to get rid of it.

    Another thing that concerns me is that there is no method by which compromise procedures (e.g. mandatory intermediaries) may be measured. When I was struggling with the Illinois CI program, there was no oversight committee or other entity to whom I could ask for redress of grievances (specifically, the disclosure of my identifying information without my consent). There was no one to get them to disclose their standard policies and procedures. There is no transparency or monitoring. In fact, the people that run the program have finagled their way into getting the judge to let them pre-approve petitions before he rules on them, therefore stacking the deck (and making sure their statistics look good). Again, I might have a different opinion on compromise legislation if there were some oversight, but as it is it’s a free-for-all where those who run the programs make the rules and there is no higher authority to whom one can appeal.

  4. Triona, I understand your reasoning, but insisting on all or nothing hasn’t accomplished much anywhere except New England and Oregon. I question whether no state has ever revisited OBC legislation. In any case, in Missouri with 8 year term limits it’s the lobbying and bureaucracy that have continuity, the legislators are on a revolving door.
    I tend to be an idealist in many ways, but I also have been in public offices and know that you seldom get everything you want. Politics can be an ugly business, because it’s the art of the possible and that often means compromising. The Missouri bills are not unrestricted, but they are cleaner than existing law and will benefit some adoptees now and more in the future.

    I have no intention of stopping if this bill passes. Right-to-lifers and gun owners advocates never stop pushing for incremental changes, and have been effective in advancing their agendas year by year; can we not learn from their persistence?

    The downside to not supporting incremental OBC laws is that legislators have many other issues to deal with in the limited time available, and we run a risk of being seen as whiners who can never be satisfied. Many legislators HAVE gone out on a limb to support even this legislation against the wishes of powerful lobbies who oppose us.

    We are all agreed upon our destination; let’s not fragment over which road we use. In Missouri, we have all discussed exactly the points you raise.

  5. I totally understand Triona’s viewpoint and that is it born out of compassion and the need to end discrimination for all Adoptees, not just those born in a certain year. MA has too, thanks to Governer Patrick, who most of my state is unhappy with at the moment, signed into law a few years ago, a “sandwiched” Open Adoption Records bill, and this made me very sad. I won’t presume to sit here amongst the rest of you and make any opionon on how laws are being made, because I am politically challenaged, due to my lack of education about how the legal system and Congress works pertaining to Adoption laws, (although I am trying to learn as fast as I can), but I will say, that the quickest solution to our problems I think, is to get more Adoptees into the government, so they can do what Paula Boinot did-how we are going to do that however, is beyond me and open for debate.

  6. No compromised state has ever revisited and passed a bill to include everyone. Oregon, Alabama, New Hampshire, and Maine did not have limited access They had no access without a court order.

    Once a veto is in place the state cannot backtrack. That veto is a promsie, and unless the state wants to be sued and lose they can’t say “Sorry.” Those vetoed records, even if the record is for one person only , remain sealed, and is that state is not a free bastard state. “Sandwich states” too do not revisit successfully.

    New Jersey should just either give up or “activists’ should start chaining themselves to the statehouse or take over the offices of strategic opposition leggies. Or how about picketing Marie Tasy’s home. Marie Tasy: Bigot Lives Here. How about going to jail? Never happen.

  7. I’m an Ohio Bastard from the black hole years. I am one of the people whose access was bargained away in a previous “compromise.”

    I have nothing but contempt for these notions of “a little” civil, human, and identity rights.

    “Partial” civil rights for a lucky few are not civil rights, they are mere state granted favors, given out to some through an arbitrary process, at a direct and lasting cost to others.

    Once you grant the state the ability to pick and chose who it will grant these special privileges to, one should not be the least bit surprised to see access actually DECREASE, not increase, as once the state has been granted that power it tends to exercise it in accord with its own interests.

    When you look at examples such as “birthparent vetos” it rapidly becomes clear just how much this gutting of our most basic human rights really is nothing more than a state granted favour granted to a select few.

    It’s a not merely a favour, but a really special favour, a downright extraordinary favour being granted by the state in that establishes a prior restraint on our constitutional right to freedom of association not based upon behaviour (such an anti-stalking law would have its basis in), but merely upon our membership in a class of people, those adopted.

    Beyond the human rights arguments, there are also very practical reasons to never settle for legislation that bargains people away.

    Those who are willing to settle for ‘these now, don’t worry, we’ll come back later for the rest of you’ may have many years worth of having begged for those table scraps, but they may not have much insight into the larger picture of what happens in the wake of such legislative abominations.

    Sadly, I’ve done precisely that work (in fields other than adoption) of trying to come back in in the aftermath of “compromised” legislation to try to get regain the pieces that were bargained away.

    It doesn’t work.

    For roughly the next 20 years after passing that kind of turning point legislation state legislators will tell whoever comes next ‘we just gave you X, we’re not going to go back and address those issues again.”

    Try seeking out a sponsor for restoration legislation in the wake of a “compromised” bill, you don’t get anywhere.

    Those bargained away are now a subset of a subset, “compromised” legislation decreases whatever small political voice they had access to in the first place.

    Ultimately, we’re left behind.

    Whatever political voice we do manage to construct tends to be a small gathering of those left behind, as in adoption more generally, many adoptees tend to care about records access as a political issue only until they manage to get a copy of theirs for themselves. A much smaller number continue to care about other adopted people’s access after they have their own, and of those still around, fewer still are willing to stand strong on a no-compromise position.

    But no-compromise is, as Triona points out, the only way to ensure that after access is granted YOU won’t find yourself counted among the few whose access is Vertoed, Black Holed, or otherwise non-existent.

    Do I understand the heartbreak and anguish of New Jersey? Of course I do.

    Yes we are all getting older, and the lifetimes worth of missed opportunities that non-adopted people simply never have to give so much as a thought to can easily drive a Bastard or a Parent, (or sibling or other family member) insane.

    But, and this is a dealbreaker of a BUT, I’m not willing to support any legislation that creates a “special” class of Bastards consigned to the “expendable” bin.

    Because I live there.

    I wouldn’t wish such a fate on anyone.

  8. http://maryanne says

    Thanks for this excellent piece, Triona. You very eloquently explain what it is like to be an adoptee who is denied her rights by a “mother, may I?” veto.

    By the way, I live in the same state as Adoptauthor, have been working just as long for open records her, and am not supporting any compromised bill. The compromises do not work anyhow as far as getting a bill passed. I am not willing to settle for “passing anything”. Either it is a civil rights bill or it is not. If a clean bill is introduced again I will support it, until then, I am sitting this one out.

    As you have stated, no compromised bill has ever been “fixed”. These bills are not “incremental” nor are they “baby steps”. What passes is the ONLY step, for decades to come, so it had better be a good, clean bill.

    It is not right and not really honest to promote compromise bills as something that will be revisited and “tweaked” or “fixed” in a few years, because that never happens. The least that those who support these bills could do it to admit that. These are reunion bills, “mother, may I?” bills for some adoptees. They have nothing to do with rights. Some people are ok with that, but they should be more upfront about what they are really supporting.

  9. As I mentioned, like BLC I am one of those left behind. Actually doubly so. My birth mother’s denial of contact puts me in Illinois’ black hole, and I am also one of those “sandwiched” in Ohio as that is where my adoption records lie. I wouldn’t wish such a fate on anyone either which is why I only support clean bills. I will not put other adoptees in the same situation I’m in.

    It concerns me that many people in the adoption reform community tend to have a knee-jerk reaction when they heard about bills that will supposedly “open records”. They immediately start writing legislators and newspapers, which is great in theory, but they don’t stop to look at the bill and find out what they are actually supporting. They don’t always understand what compromise legislation actually means, and they certainly don’t think they themselves could be the ones vetoed. Because that only happens to “other people”.

    As one of the “other people”, I call upon everyone in the adoption community to stand together and insist upon rights for EVERYONE, not just the chosen few.

  10. http://Anonymous says

    This is a battle for the return of our civil rights.

    It sickens me to hear that my fellow bastards have been vetoed and compromised out of the OBC’s. This is UNACCEPTABLE.

    I view compromise as making a deal with the enemy. Some European countries made deals with Hitler and allow the Nazi’s move in with an understanding that they would not destroy them but people in the neighboring countries.

    If we allow compromise legislation, it is allowing a “precident” to be set and it will, in effect, be used to destroy other adoptee rights movements in other states, as well.

    This is a war, my friends. We need to stick together and leave NO ONE BEHIND.

  11. http://Mirah%20Riben says


    Fining an adult for contact another adult!?! They have GOT to be KIDDING! I would love to a class action suit if it’s ever passed! What a case to take to the supreme court! It might be worth letting it pass just to challenge it – but it takes $$!

    Well, it makes the NJ bill I’ve bene engrossed in look like a cup cake with icing on top. ALL they want it to violate the privacy of mothers by accessing confidential information without consent – rather than knock on our door and ASK and give us an opportunity to say yay or nay!!

    After all – we’re just a bunch of sluts, why protect our right — well, unless your USING our alleged”protection” to prevent equality in accessing OBC with OUR names on them!! protect us from direct approach where we have an opportunity to open our door not – but sneak behind our backs and access all that is private and confidential about our lives at a time of stress and youth!! Give me a freakin’ break! use medical need to know as an excuse to find out if we smoked pot! That’s very relevant and genetically important!

    It’s all so ass backwards I can’t believe it!

    Out of control. No grassroots focus on equality. Everything convoluted with medical “need to know”! All ass backwards!!

    I’m spewing angry.