By Doris Michol Sippel
Even though I legally reclaimed my name of birth, New York State sealed my birth certificate and won’t give it back.
Since 1935, birth certificates of adopted people in New York State are revoked, sealed and replaced.
Legislation to allow access to sealed records recently passed the Assembly and Senate. But adoptees are asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to veto the “Adoptee Bill of Rights.” That’s because amendments will allow parents who signed away their parental rights to redact their names from the sealed record, or prevent the release altogether.
Legislators believe identities of unmarried mothers must be protected. But no promise of confidentiality was ever made.
Signed relinquishment removes all parental rights. Whether signed willingly, under duress or terminated involuntarily, parental rights to the child are removed, but the child’s right to the birth certificate remains.
After relinquishment, if the child is never adopted and ages out of foster care, that person maintains the birth certificate for life – without the relinquishing parents’ consent or power to redact their names. Therefore, concern over adoptees discovering the identities of their mothers and fathers is pointless.
A child’s name and parents’ names are removed from the official birth record only upon adoption. The child is renamed on the new “birth” certificate and the names of the legal parents replace the names of natural parents. Once adopted, the children lose the right to their own birth certificate.
The amended Adoptee Bill of Rights would give all parents who signed away their parental rights decades ago the new right to redact their names on their adopted-out daughter or son’s birth certificate, or prevent the document’s release. These are powers that other parents do not have. No parent has the right to redact his or her name from a child’s birth certificate.
All children become autonomous adults at the age of majority. Adoptees cease to be under natural parent control when the surrender agreement is signed. Adoptees gain the right to be autonomous adults when we reach the age of majority; our adoptive parents are relieved of their parental rights when we become legal adults.
The law would force adoptees, via state confidential intermediaries, to seek permission from their natural parents to obtain a copy of their sealed birth certificate. Adoptees who were removed from abusive parents will be forced to abide by parental authority from the very parents whose rights were involuntarily terminated. The final decision will be made by a judge whether or not adoptees can have that sealed document.
The governor must veto this bill, then advance simpler access legislation: the “New York Bill of Adoptee Rights.”
Repealing the 1935 sealed records law, however, would completely restore adoptees’ civil rights to birth certificates by mandating reality-based documentation of birth. Equality under the law to non-adopted people is the goal.
Doris Michol Sippel, formerly known as Joan Wheeler, is the author of “Forbidden Family: An Adopted Woman’s Struggle for Identity.”