May 23, 2008

"Adoptees Should Have the Right to Know Their Origins"

© Photographer: Ivankmit | Agency:
Adoptees should have the right to know their origins
By James M. Hamilton
Article Last Updated: 05/21/2008 05:57:22 PM CDT

Gov. Pawlenty vetoed an obscure bit of legislation on May 16, one that
few Minnesotans have heard of and in which even fewer have any
interest. But for tens of thousands of Minnesotans whose lives have been
touched by adoption over the last 90 years, it was a significant event, one
in which Gov. Pawlenty reached the right result for all the wrong
Every birth in Minnesota is memorialized by a birth certificate. A
second birth certificate is issued for any minor adopted in Minnesota.
Since 1917, Minnesota has sealed the original birth certificates of those
born and adopted in this state. Initially, the information was locked
away only from the general public. Over the years, however, the law was
changed to prohibit anyone from seeing the original birth certificate,
parent or offspring, adult or child. Under current law, some adult
adoptees have access to their original birth certificates, some don't. It
all depends upon when they were born and whether one of their biological
parents has told the state not to release that information to them.
The bill in question would have changed the situation slightly,
allowing any adoptee at least 19 years of age to obtain an uncertified copy of
his or her original certificate upon request, provided that one of the
birth parents had not already vetoed the adoptee's right to that
Neither the existing law, nor the bill vetoed last week by Gov.
Pawlenty, makes sense to this adoptive father. Why my son should be denied the
right to obtain a copy of his original birth certificate from the
state, while I have the absolute right to my own, is a mystery. Both of our
births were public events, like that of virtually every other person
in this state. Yet, the state decided at some point in the distant past
that some adults in this state should be denied access to this most
fundamental personal information: who they are and where they came from.
No one should have the right to tell the state whether my son may have
access to this information. Yet our current law and the failed attempt
to modify it place that right in the hands of the man and woman who
conceived him. Why? Because he was adopted after being born. Had he been
placed in foster care, he would have the same rights I do. Whether he
was born inside or outside of marriage, he would have the same rights I
do. Whether he had been raised by one parent or two, he would have the
same rights I do. But because he was adopted, the State of Minnesota has
granted either of his biological parents the power to deny him the
right enjoyed by every other non-adopted person in Minnesota: the right to
know from whence he came.
The exercise of this power would not affect only my son. It would
affect all those to whom he is related by blood and who may be deprived of
the possibility of ever knowing him: his father, mother, grandparents,
uncles, aunts, siblings, nieces, nephews, and cousins. All because he
was adopted.
Gov. Pawlenty was right to veto a bill that would have perpetuated this
injustice. Sadly, he did so for all the wrong reasons. His veto was
based not on a recognition of the rights of adult adoptees, but on the
erroneous belief that those who relinquished children for adoption were
in some way promised that the fact of the adoption would be kept forever
secret by the state. He also cited a report that fewer than
one-quarter of biological parents contacted by a single Minnesota adoption agency
preferred not to have identifying information released by the agency.
Fortunately, my son was born in a country that does not seal original
birth certificates. He already has a certified copy of his. He knows his
origins. But thousands of others adopted in Minnesota since 1917 (and
their descendants) will never know theirs, so long as Minnesota
continues to meddle in their private lives.
Ninety-one years of such meddling is more than enough. Perhaps our next
Legislature and our next governor will recognize that the state has no
legitimate role to play in this area of our lives. Perhaps they will
recognize that adult adoptees are indeed adults, not the children they
once were. But they'll need to hear from us to do so.
James M. Hamilton is a St. Paul attorney in private practice and an
adoptive father. His e-mail address is

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