I was born in the State of Connecticut in 1959. I have both of my birth certificates to prove it.
Both, you say? Yes, both. I have a copy of my original, true birth certificate created on the date of my birth. The woman named as my mother actually gave birth to me. The man named as my father actually sired me.
I also have a copy of my false, amended (and yet official) birth certificate. My official birth certificate was created almost a year after I was born, but was backdated to the date of my birth. It states that my adoptive mother gave birth to me, and my adoptive father sired me.
I have, it seems, a rather embarrassing wealth of parents.
I am adopted. My official birth certificate is what we lawyers know as a "legal fiction." It is that (supposedly) rarest of all chimeras, a false legal document that was not created pursuant to a crime. It was created under a system designed to protect children born to unmarried women (the most common source of adoptees) from the "stigma of illegitimacy." While a treatise could be written on the wisdom of continuing a system of true and false birth certificates, that is not the purpose of this article.
The purpose is to address the right of adult adoptees to access to their original, true birth certificates. Yes, "adult adoptees."
It feels like I just wrote "jumbo shrimp." Yes folks, we adoptees grow up and become adults. Who knew?
However in one very crucial aspect under Connecticut law, adoptees never, ever grow up. (Like living Peter Pans, I guess). They remain minors in perpetuity.
Under Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 7-51, all (non-adopted) persons over the age of 18 years may obtain a copy of their birth certificate from the state Department of Public Health. So, too, may their children, grandchildren, spouse, parent, guardian or grandparent. Birth, it would seem, is a bit of a family affair.
But not for adult adoptees. They never attain the right to obtain a copy of their true, original birth certificate.
You may be surprised to learn that this is a relatively recent development under Connecticut law. Before 1974, all persons adopted in the state of Connecticut had an unrestricted right to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate once they reached the age of majority.
I bet you didn't know that.
Unfortunately the law was changed in 1974 via a last minute, post public-hearing amendment to an adoption bill, proposed by a single legislator who was concerned about "angry teenagers." Poof!
There went my right to my original birth certificate. It was replaced by an ever-morphing, byzantine process which has included Probate Court review, intermediary systems, non-identifying information forms, counseling (!) for the adult adoptee, and all sorts of lovely impediments to the exercise of the basic human right to possess information about oneself that has been recorded by the state. (See Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 45a-743 et.seq.)
Bottom line: No adult adoptee in Connecticut has the right to access their original birth certificate. And every non-adopted adult does. Hmm. Can you smell something just a little off here? That sour smell that emanates when one class of citizens gets treated differently from another, based solely on their status?
There's more. An amended birth certificate is not created when parental rights are terminated. A false, amended birth certificate is only created at the time of an adoption proceeding, if any. (See Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 7-53.)
So here is my question to you: How did the adoptee's lawyers let this happen? How did lawyers allow their clients to lose this right, forever? I mean, couldn't they have made a copy before it was sealed and kept it in their files until the adoptee came of age? (Attorneys are allowed to obtain copies of their client's birth certificates under Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 7-51.) Couldn't they have provided a copy to the adoptive parents to hold in trust until their child became an adult? Couldn't they have done something? Anything?
They could have if they had been hired. But adoptees (almost) never have attorneys representing them in adoption proceedings. Instead they are appointed guardians, most often adoption agencies.
Well darn, I wish someone had thought of hiring me a lawyer.
What would you do if you were the lawyer for an infant in an adoption proceeding? Would you let your client be deprived of the right to his original birth certificate, in perpetuity? (If so you'd better not be my lawyer, or I'd be telling you to put your malpractice carrier on notice.)
Nobody seems to have foreseen the possibility that the adoptee will become an adult. An adult with rights of his own. An adult who might not be so happy about the State permanently depriving him of his true birth certificate.
No, I did not consent to the State of Connecticut hiding basic information from me about my birth, my heritage or my identity in perpetuity. No, I did not consent to submitting to a degrading and dehumanizing process of having to ask permission to obtain a government document that contains critical information about me. Information that non-adopted citizens can possess by filing a form and paying a small fee.
As citizens we have a fundamental right to accurate government records, particularly when those government records relate to ourselves. I want my right back.
Expectation Of Anonymity
I am a licensed attorney. A commissioner of the Superior Court. I may legally take acknowledgements, issue subpoenas and engage in the practice law. (I did that for a decade). I am also a licensed professional counselor. I am 53 years old. I had the right to obtain my original, true birth certificate until I was 14 years old. And now the state says I don't have that right? Wait. It gets worse.
Any child over the age of 4 knows his name. So it's going to be really hard to pull this "hide the birth certificate" trick on that child. So who are the only citizens the state can do this to? Yup, you guessed it. Infants and toddlers. Minors whose brains were too young to remember. And the only reason the ruse works is because the citizen in question is a very young minor.
One common argument against adult adoptee access is the claim that biological parents had an expectation of anonymity, or were promised privacy, from the adoptee. A right to privacy, of course, can only rest in information that one possesses. And at best, information about a birth is co-owned by the individuals involved: the person giving birth and the person being given birth to. How can information about my birth, contained in a state document specifically created to memorialize that birth, not be owned by me? Although not enacted, the 1980 Model State Adoption Act reached this obvious conclusion: "There can be no legally protected interest in keeping one's identity secret from one's biological offspring; parent and child are considered co-owners of the information regarding the event of birth." Federal Register, Model State Adoption Act (1980)
Furthermore, since 1983 every parent consenting to the termination of their parental rights has signed an Affidavit of Consent created by the Office of the Chief Probate Court Administrator pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 45a-715(d). This affidavit prominently states, in part, "I am aware that the child, upon reaching his eighteenth birthday, may have the right to information which may identify me or other blood relatives." The signature is notarized and the notary affirms that the Affidavit either was read out loud to the signer in a language they understood, or that the signer read it and acknowledged they understood its contents.
Wow. Does anyone see an expectation of anonymity there?
The few courts that have considered the claim of a birth parent right to privacy have found that none exists. (Jane Does v. State of Oregon, 98C-20424; CA A107235 (1999); Doe v. Sundquist, 943 F. Supp. 886 (M.D. Tenn. 1996), 106 F.3d 702 (6th Cir. 1997), cert denied 522 US 810 (1997).
Depriving adult adoptees of access to their true, original birth certificates was an error based on what is now known as a failed social experiment in secrecy, pretense and "codified shame." Our fine State of Connecticut has a responsibility to acknowledge these past errors and correct them. Admit it and fix it, Connecticut. And then you can be proud.
In recent years several states (plus Kansas and Alaska, which never denied access) have enacted unrestricted access laws, including our neighboring states of Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine. I fully expect to see this right reinstated in Connecticut, as justice demands.
To learn more about efforts in Connecticut to allow adult adoptees to access their true birth certificates, please visit www.accessconnecticut.org.