Identity can be a complex beast. Adoption can take that complexity to another level. For many domestic adoptees, our legal identity is transformed at, or shortly after, birth. Our adoptive parents complete the formal adoption process, and we are issued a second birth certificate. A ‘rebirthing’ if you will.
Our second birth certificate, or amended birth certificate, is a legal document which states that we were ‘born to’ our adoptive parents. Our original birth certificate with the names of our biological parents is sealed by the state and is only viewable by court order (if you’re lucky enough to get one). The same process takes place with any legal adoption, including stepparent or kinship adoptions.
There is obviously a legal need for our link to our adoptive families to be recognized, but facts matter. While the individuals listed on my birth certificate are the people that I call mom and dad, they did not give birth to me.
Refusing adoptees access to their original birth certificates breeds secrecy and shame - two things that should no longer be given oxygen in the modern adoption process. Concealing information about the biological identity of an adoptee implies that there are pieces of that adoptee that need concealment. From a legal standpoint, it is also inherently unequal. By the nature of the circumstances surrounding your birth, you have had the right to view your own birth certificate taken from you. If you had been born in those same circumstances, but never formally adopted, you would still be able to access your original birth certificate and the names of your biological parents.
Before I underwent the search and reunion process, I envisioned myself as the embodiment of secrecy and shame for my biological mother. I was never able to meet her - she passed away a year before I made the phone call to Barker. Having met her friends and family, I was astounded to learn that she spoke of me with them openly, even celebrating my birthday each year. She had tried to find me for many years on social media under my birth name - a name that I was not able to access until a year too late.
Adoptees in the state of Maryland are currently sponsoring legislation that would allow adult adoptees to have access to their original birth certificates. Adoptees who were adopted before June 1, 1947, and after January 1, 2000, are already able to request their original birth certificates under Maryland law. Individuals adopted between those two dates may not. This effort began, and was initially successful, in 2020, but was halted by the start of the COVID pandemic and the adjournment of the state legislature. The current bill, SB0331, has not yet been scheduled for a hearing by the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
If you or someone you love was adopted in Maryland, please consider reaching out to Senator William C Smith Jr at will.smith [at] senate.state.md.us and ask for SB0331 to be added to the vote list for the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Secondly, please contact Senator Cheryl Kagan at cheryl.kagan [at] senate.state.md.us and ask her to support SB0331. To stay informed about future ways that you can help and updates on the process, please visit Capitol Coalition Adoptees at capitoladoptees.org.
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