Although the adoption industry celebrates National Adoption Month and World Adoption Day in November, families torn apart will not be rejoicing. This exposé addresses the most insidious legal policy that the multi-billion dollar adoption industry uses to their advantage: identity theft of children. From the 1930s to the present day, adoption re-assigns identities by court order that requires replacing birth certificates of all adopted people, even in socially-open adoption. A brief history of the purpose behind the passage of these laws and explanations as to how they violate adoptees’ civil and human rights will be presented. This piece concludes with anti-adoption activists’ views from around the world, with specific proposed legislative solutions to fully restore civil rights to American adopted people.
Brief History of How and Why Laws Changed Birth Certificates of Adopted People
In her 2013 book, Mary S. Payne presents a thorough history of modern American adoption.1
As it has been for thousands of years, society scorned single women for giving birth outside of marriage. In the early 20th century, these women, and their illegitimate children, were punished by harsh birth certificate laws. Legislation was passed in 1915 in Illinois to exclude unmarried parents’ names from their child’s birth certificate; adding names only with their permission. The law required illegitimacy to be indicated on the document (usually by a checkbox or rubber stamped across the front of the document).2
Adoption, however, presented different problems. In the 1920s and 1930s, the theory of “legal realism” mirrored society as lived in the current time. Lawmakers wanted the child’s new legal name and that of the adopters’ on an amended birth certificate so that it would match the adoption decree, making the child’s legal birth certificate “congruent” with legal parentage. They also felt that those who would be providing financial support and constant care should be named on the adopted child’s birth certificate.3
At a national conference of registrars of vital statistics in 1930, a paper entitled “Birth Records of Illegitimates and of Adopted Children,” was presented. The authors believed that “these unfortunates should be equally vested with the ‘inalienable constitutional rights’ of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ as are children legitimately born.” A plan was devised to legitimize fatherless children by providing them with legally married parents through adoption. Amended birth certificates would be created after the final court order of adoption was signed by a judge, giving the child a new name and new legal parents. The child’s actual birth certificate would be sealed away from public view. Over time, preventing the public from viewing private documents morphed into the strict adherence to the notion that adopted people themselves should be prevented from accessing their own birth certificates out of fear of exposing the dark secret that could destroy their “unwed” mothers.4
This became the federal Model Law from which all states adapted variations into their constitutions.
Medical Record of Live Birth vs. Adoption’s Amended “Birth” Certificate
Using my own two different birth certificates as a comparative guide, I can prove the difference between a medical record of live birth and an adoptee’s amended birth certificate.
When a child is born, the attending physician signs the medical record of live birth. The local registrar of vital statistics signs the document. A registered number is typed in at the upper right hand corner of both the short form birth registration certificate and the long form medical record of birth.
When a child is adopted, a similar, but different, form is used. It appears the same in every way, except for a few details. The registered number follows the child to adoption and appears in the upper right hand corner of the amended birth certificate form. Some medical information is included, such as birthdate, time, place, single or twin or triplet birth, and name of hospital. The birth weight, gestation in weeks of pregnancy, tests and medications given to the “mother” and newborn are not included because this woman did not give birth, nor was this re-named child born. This child was created upon the finalization of adoption, but that is not indicated anywhere on this document. Some state laws allow adopters to change the city, state, and birthdate as well. There is no line for the attending physician’s signature because this “birth” never took place. The state director of vital statistics (in the state capital) creates a birth certificate by swapping in the information from the final court order of adoption, then signs it, and affixes the state’s raised seal, certifying false facts as true.
The state director of vital statistics is authorized to lie. If anyone else gives false information on a government form, that is perjury.
“Stop Re-Homing” is a Facebook Page that “documents blogposts, tweets, news and other resources on the practice of rehoming in the world of adoption.” Re-homing is when adopters no longer want their adopted children so they post adds online to find other people to adopt these now unwanted adopted children who are then un-adopted, re-homed, and adopted by new adopters.5
The unstated truth of each adoption is that a child’s name and birth certificate is reassigned and a new “birth” certificate is created, invalidating the others that came before the “current” birth certificate.
While the method of re-homing is new, some adopted people have experienced being adopted twice. In addition to being thrust into new family constructs, these adoptees have three or more birth certificates because two or more court ordered name changes were implemented through the finalization of adoption. To non-adopted people, this may not seem to be a problem. To adopted people who have lived through this as children, one or more identity re-assignments is not only confusing, but it is disruptive to normal human development and is psychologically damaging.
Unintended Consequences or Intentional?
In the 1930s, lawmakers believed that they were providing legitimacy to those who they thought needed a life free from shame. Their seemingly well-intentioned alteration of the facts had unintended consequences. These laws were the very mechanism that stripped away the inalienable civil rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” of all adopted people, and not just bastards. Half and full orphans who lost one or both parents to an early death, and children who were removed from their parents due to abuse or neglect, were also adopted. As divorce and remarriage became commonplace, many children were adopted by step-parents or other family members. These legitimately-born adoptees did not need to be legitimized through adoption, but we were (and are now) subjected to the same identity erasure as were illegitimates who were seen to be in need of legitimation.
It took decades, but adopted children grew up to resent these lies. Our birth certificates are false. Our state governments prevent us from knowing who we are. Since our very identities and families have been legally erased and replaced, our constitutional rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” have been violated. We are prohibited from self-determination and are not completely free citizens. Adopted people are segregated by law from non-adopted citizens who are free to own their authentic birth certificates, to know their own families, and to associate with anyone they wish.
Adoptees Sued for Access to Sealed Records in 1977
In 1977, members of Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) sued the “[D]irector of Vital Records for New York City, and other adoption agencies in federal court for the right to have access to their individual records… [and] challenged the constitutionality of New York [State] statutes requiring the sealing of adoption records, based upon the right of each person to his or her own identity, privacy and personhood.” The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case in 1979. ALMA lost. The ruling stated adoptees could petition the court to access the sealed record by presenting “for good cause shown” such as a “psychological, medical or a religious identity crisis.” Additionally, “the statutes never deprived the adopted person of parents. They merely exchanged one set for another. Since the adoptees did not question the constitutionality of the adoption laws, their challenge to sealed records was turned back to the states.”6
“Open Records” Became the Battle Cry
Since 1979, adopted people lobbied each state’s legislatures for access to our sealed records. “Open records” was the battle cry at conferences, public demonstrations, protests, and marches on Washington D. C. Two states, Kansas and Alaska, have never sealed original birth certificates from adoptees over age 18, but they have always created amended birth certificates, just as in every other state. In the 37 years since the ALMA civil rights case failed, only a few states passed laws allowing varying degrees of access-only to confiscated birth certificates.7
Because most adopted people had no tangible proof of our identities before adoption and our made-up names were all we knew, there was no demand to eradicate the act of falsifying documents. At that time, very few of us knew our names at birth or owned our actual birth certificates. For the handful of us who did, there was no consensus as to what should be done with the evidence. It seemed as if most activists accepted that falsifying – amending – adoptees’ birth certificates was just the way it was, so no one bothered to try to change it.
Why Access-Only Bills Will Not Solve the Problem
Access bills that become law allow adopted people to acquire an information-only uncertified copy of our own medical record of live birth while the false document remains as our certified verification of “birth.” Clearly, access bills are not solving the two-fold problem as they will not stop the propagation of invented birth certificates from court-appointed adoption, nor will they stop the continued permanent annulment and sealing of the actual medical record of birth of children adopted now and in the future. Access bills and laws provide only limited access to uncertified copies of the sealed birth record.
DNA Proves Parentage and Lineage
Adoption’s identity theft is forced upon all adoptees. We are then expected to believe that (and behave as if) legal parentage is more important than genetics and actual parentage. If that is the case, then we should all give up our children to any stranger who wants them so they can “have a better life” than the one we can give. No one should keep their children. Imagine that laws will be passed to mandate that all children will be removed at birth and raised by someone else. If that does not seem right to you, then why is it permissible for the adoption industry to use coercive tactics to persuade young, vulnerable and poor mothers to give up their infants at birth to adopters who catch the baby immediately upon birth and cut the cord?
If DNA is not important, then it would not be needed to prove paternity to chase after unmarried dead beat dads for child support, or to name the father on his child’s birth certificate. If DNA is irrelevant, it would not have meaning in medical tests determining genetic markers for inherited conditions that “run in the family,” or to clear or convict criminals, or to trace ancestry back a few generations for family pride or thousands of years to analyze migration patterns. “It’s in the very DNA of…” is a very popular phrase these days, meaning this is the very core of who that person is. We cannot admit how vital DNA is to all of us, and then turn around, slap a new name and new legal “parents” on a child, prevent truth to be told, and expect that child to become this new persona. DNA does not work that way.
LGBT Rights vs. Identity Rights
Now that the LGBT community has won marriage equality (to that of straight couples), they extended the fight to gain “family equality” for the misperceived “right” to adopt. Two lesbian “mothers” or two gay “fathers” can now be named on a “birth” certificate, ignoring the very simple truth that it takes one mother’s egg and one father’s sperm (and now, a surrogate mother can be added to the biological mix) to make a baby.
While LGBT adults desire a baby, they are not concerned for the civil rights of the children they are adopting, or producing via donor-conception, or both. Donor-conceived individuals are completely displaced from their genetic families. Their identity rights have also been violated. Birth certificates of donor-conceived people are completely false from the very beginning since the names of the gamete donors and surrogate mothers are not placed on the birth certificate.
These differences segregate donor-conceived and adopted people from non-adopted people who never need to question the truthfulness of their birth certificates. This is discrimination based upon circumstances of conception, birth and adoption. Donor-conceived and adopted people are not treated equally under the law to the non-adopted who can freely obtain and use their own birth certificates with the certainty of the facts stated.
Inconsistencies in Birth Certificate Laws Use Truth-at-Birth Against Transgendered People While Denying Truth-at-Birth to Adoptees
Many transgendered individuals are forced by law to use restrooms that correspond to the gender that is stated on their birth certificates. This disregards the scientific reality of living in a male body with a female brain, or a female body with a male brain. In some States, transgendered people are not allowed to legally change the gender on their birth certificates to match their gender identity after transition. If laws won’t allow this, presumably because the truth should stay the way it was written at birth, then why are birth certificates of adopted people changed to reflect biological unrealities assigned to us?8
A Global Shift in Thought
From the time I was found by my blood family in 1974 to as recent as 2014, whenever I persisted that something must be done about the falsification of birth certificates (like a constitutional amendment or a class-action civil rights lawsuit), the answer from some of the leaders of reform organizations or attorneys was, “The bureaucracy is too big, it can’t be done.” While most other American activists adamantly focused only on access to sealed records, I used my own birth certificates in presenting my case to legislators to help change the laws. I have owned my medically-accurate birth certificate for 42 years (it was given to my adopters at the time they adopted me and they gave it to me), but have no legal right to it because it is sealed. Legislators did not respond. What am I to make of this?
In recent years, however, rumblings from activists around the nation and the world brought the issues to the forefront of social consciousness.
In “The Strange History of the Birth Certificate,” Liza Mundy writes:
In a spasm of mid-century morality, states saw fit to seal that original certificate, thinking that it would lessen the stigma of illegitimacy and infertility. The upshot was that well-meaning parents, who wanted to withhold the fact of adoption from their children, could invoke the birth certificate as proof.9
Mundy contemplates that the deceptions of birth certificates “continue to complicate the lives of a remarkably large number of children. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than 61,000 infants were born in 2010 as the result of in vitro fertilization. Nearly 8,000 of these pregnancies came from donor eggs. An estimated 1,400 babies were carried by surrogates. There are no good estimates of how many children are fathered by sperm donors, although back in 1988, someone arrived at the figure of 30,000 a year.”
“Even surrogates” Mundy explains, “are being omitted by means of a popular legal device known as a “pre-birth order,” which names the mother—or gay dad—who raises the child as the parent who gave birth to it. While these fudges help nontraditional parents create families (a good thing for the parents), they can also erase children’s genetic and gestational history (not such a good thing for the children).”
Mirah Riben, mother-of-adoption-loss and author of The Stock Market: America’s Multi-Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry (2007), is an activist in adoption reform for 40 years. She wrote extensively on adoptees’ birth certificates. In the first of four articles, “The Last – and Least Recognized – Americans Denied Equal Rights,” June 18, 2013, published on the website Dissident Voice, Riben states:
All Americans have a right to ‘equal protection’ under the law. Yet one class of people are so marginalized they are not even recognized as a discriminated against minority. The least known or even thought of in a discussion of civil rights are adopted persons. … Comprising an estimated two percent of the population, adopted persons are a discriminated minority with laws that apply only to them while denying them the same rights as non-adopted persons.10
These restrictive provisions prejudicially distinguish adoptees, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which provides that ‘no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
She charges that “the federal government needs to deem it unconstitutional for states to discriminate against adoptees, and unlawful to continue to falsify birth certificates in a day and age that no longer stigmatizes children born to single moms.”
In another article, Mirah Riben addresses the adoption of a child by two gay men that “goes beyond issues of marriage or the right to marry. It is about a child’s birthright, his dignity and his 14th Amendment rights.”11
Riben adds that:
Historians who have examined the arguments for the laws that created amended birth certificates for adoptees and ordered the sealing of their original birth certificates, found that it was in fact done to protect adoptive parents from intrusion by birth parents and to protect the secret of adoption in a time when adoptive parents were counseled not to tell their adopted children that they were adopted.
She argues that “The need for false birth certificates to maintain adoption as a lie has passed. It is obsolete. Yet, we are still living with outdated adoption laws and procedures that have not kept pace with the changing mores.”
Riben writes that DNA testing and Facebook posts are invasive methods used by adopted people in searching for their natural families. She states that:
Giving adoptees access to their own vital birth certificates is the fair and equitable thing to do in a nation that prides itself on upholding human and civil rights, and it is also the safer, kinder and more private way to protect birth parents allowing what are personal and family matters to remain private. Maintaining sealed adoption records does not protect mothers and fathers of birth but rather puts them in far more jeopardy of public exposure.12
Riben addresses many assumptions in “The Perversion of American Birth Certificates”:
Having two moms or two dads listed as parents of birth is being presented as another fight for same sex “equality” while, ironically, continuing to disregard adoptees’ fight for equality in regards to access to their OBC (Original Birth Certificate) since they became sealed. Adoptee rights advocates strongly object to adopted persons being discriminated against and denied their 14th amendment right to have the same access to their OBC as non-adopted citizens.13
At the same time these articles were published, I, too, was frustrated over the same topic. Two of my articles14 were written in response to decades of identity erasure, and the gay community proclaiming that they have the right to place their names as parents on birth certificates. They were written and published by this website when I was known by my adopted name of Joan Wheeler.
Mother-of-adoption-loss, author and activist for 40 years, Sandy Musser, started an online petition three years ago calling for President Barak Obama to sign a Presidential Executive Order titled the Adoptees Restoration Act which would restore original birth certificates to every adopted adult in America. The petition has reached 22,254 signatures as of November 2, 2016.15
The International Korean Adoptee Associations held its Fourth International Symposium on Korean Adoption Studies in Seoul, Korea in August 2016,16 bringing “together scholars from around the world who conduct research in the fields of Korean and Chinese adoption studies.” Conference presentations included discussions on racial identity by Koreans who were adopted by white people in America and Europe, and “Transracial Identities: The Meaning of Names and the Process of Name Reclamation for Korean American Adoptees.”
The most recent article, “Birth Certificates: The Elephant In The Room In Gender And Adoption Debates,” written by Penny Mackieson17 brings up that:
….issuance of a new birth certificate on adoption violates the adopted child’s universal rights, as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to preservation of their identity, name and family relations (Article 8).
Mackieson, an adoptee, social worker, and the Chair of VANISH, the Victorian Adoption Network for Information and Self Help, writes of the psychological aspects “of re-traumatisation every time they [adoptees] are required to produce their state-falsified birth certificate as proof of identity – just as it is for many transgender people whose ‘sex’ as recorded on their original birth certificate does not match the ‘gender’ they identify with.”
Mackieson also questions the inconsistencies of laws that insist on truth-at-birth for transgendered people while denying truth-at-birth for adoptees. She writes:
Alternatively, if the primary purpose of a birth certificate is to reflect a person’s identity, including as it evolves across their lifetime, then the argument that transgender people should have the right to alter the ‘sex’ status on their birth certificates should be supported.
Mackieson also echoes what Riben and I have also stated about same-sex adoption, “the Victorian [Australia] Government’s ‘same sex adoption’ legislation broadens the opportunity for violation of children’s rights in the same way that heterosexual adoption does.”
Clearly, the victims of adoption are rising up in revolt against the lies of identity theft, and cruelty of family obliteration, committed against us by the multi-billion dollar international adoption and infertility industries.
American Registrars of 1930 and Today
Any rational person can see that the “legal realism” of the 1930s (which is still in use in all adoptions today) is not honest and does not present authentically accurate material facts. Federal and State governments need to own up to this intentional deception that robs 7 to 10 million American adopted citizens (estimated total) of the true facts of our natural-born identities, and will continue to deprive millions more, if not discontinued.
The problem began with Registrars of Vital Statistics and could end through their cooperation. An updated Uniform Vital Statistics Act would modify the Model Law proactively requiring that every American citizen would be issued one (and only one) reality-based, factual medical record of birth. DNA tests should be required at birth on the infant and parents to verify their identities, including gamete and frozen embryo donors, and surrogate mothers (since their bodies nourish a growing unborn baby who has bonded with her). All birth certificates of every American citizen would be required to state these tangible facts. No one would be allowed to change the child’s name or replace the parents’ names on an amended “birth” certificate. Reality-based documentation must require that the child’s identity, and that of the actual parents, be permanently recorded on one birth certificate that is not replaced by adoption’s amended birth certificate. This would remove adoption’s power, reducing the legal process to guardianship. Foster parents, step parents and legal guardians know that they do not replace a child’s actual parents. It is only upon adoption that wishful thinking is turned into legal fiction.
Strict penalties for anyone, including State Directors of Vital Statistics, who knowingly place false facts on a birth certificate and then certify them, must be law nationwide. Adopters who attempt to change a child’s name would also be criminally charged. This would put an immediate and permanent end to amending “birth” certificates of children. Adopters would have no choice but to accept reality – the children they want to “call their own” are really the children of other parents. Parentage would be proven by DNA. That relationship would be preserved and respected. Even when children are removed from abusive parents, they have parents and a birth certificate. Facts are facts that do not change when a child is raised by someone else.
The new Model Law would also retroactively give all adopted people the unrestricted right to obtain a certified copy of our medical record of birth, the option of invalidating our amended “birth” certificate and replacing it with an adoption certificate, or the option to acquire an uncertified copy to retain their amended “birth” certificate and identity. Adopted people would have the legal right to annul the adoption. Currently, no adopted person has that right.
These changes would also be carried into the United States Department of State that handles immigration of children in conjunction with The Hague Conference of Intercountry Adoption. Changes would be implemented in Hague-compliant countries that supply children for adoption globally. Currently, all Hague-compliant adoptions require that an amended birth certificate be created for the child before leaving the source country.18
No child should be required to undergo a complete identity change to be loved and cared for, if indeed a new home is needed. Adoption has become a “family-building” tool to provide adopters with someone else’s child to call their own. The continued issuance of falsified “birth” certificates is clear evidence of state-sanctioned modern-day ownership of children. Adoption’s legalities require the annulment of the authentic birth certificate signed by a physician verifying the actual birth, together with the official issuance a replacement “birth” certificate, giving the illusion of birth. Guardianship preserves the child’s identity by leaving the medical record of birth intact without creating a false “birth” certificate. We must negate society’s addiction to adopting other people’s children by implementing policy that strengthens family preservation, kinship care, and custodial guardianship over adoption of children who truly need a home.
Adopted people should not be automatically assigned new identities as if we were enrolled in the witness protection program. Our lives are not a game of make-believe. Full civil rights restoration means full equality to non-adopted people who can access, obtain, and use their accurate medical record of birth. This is a right that adopted and donor-conceived people currently do not have.
The present system is delusional. Once the laws are changed to completely restore the civil and human rights of adopted and donor-conceived persons, reality will settle in. Magical thinking (and arguing about it) will end when all birth certificates clearly state verifiable facts.
- Mary S. Payne. Adoption’s Hidden History: Steps to Sealing the Records, Vol.2, 2013. [↩]
- Ibid. Payne: pp. 47-48. [↩]
- Ibid. Payne: pp. 51, 55. [↩]
- Ibid., p. 56-57. See also: “1930: Birth Records of Illegitimates and of Adopted Children,” Sheldon L. Howard, Illinois State Registrar of Vital Statistics, and Henry B. Hemenway, Medical Assistant Registrar, Vital Statistics Division, Illinois Department of Public Health, Springfield, Illinois, read before the Vital Statistics Section of the American Public Health Association, 1930-10-30, originally published in The American Journal Public Health Nations Health, 1931-6-21(6): 641–647. [↩]
- Frank Ligvoet, Stop Re-Homing, Facebook Page, January 21, 2015 [↩]
- Mary S. Payne, Adoption’s Hidden History: Steps to Sealing the Records, Vol. 2 (Charleston, South Carolina, 2013), p. 146. See also: Ellen Herman, “ALMA et al v. Lefkowitz, et al, 1977,” The Adoption History Project, Department of History, University of Oregon (Eugene, Oregon), Page updated February 24, 2012; Alma Society Inc. v. Mellon, No. 666, Docket 78-7593. 601 F. 2d 1225 (1979). [↩]
- State by State Legislation on Open Access, The American Adoption Congress, 2016. [↩]
- “Supreme Court Will Hear Transgender Bathroom Case,” Morning Edition, National Public Radio, (November 2, 2016. [↩]
- Liza Mundy, “The Strange History of the Birth Certificate,” The New Republic, February 14, 2013. [↩]
- Mirah Riben. “The Last – and Least Recognized – Americans Denied Equal Rights,” Dissident Voice, June 18, 2013. [↩]
- Mirah Riben, “Adopted Child Doe and Amended Birth Certificates,” Huffington Post, January 26, 2015. [↩]
- Mirah Riben, “Adoptee Access to Birth Certificates Protects Their Parents’ Privacy,” Huffington Post, April 27, 2015. [↩]
- Mirah Riben, “The Perversion of American Birth Certificates,” Huffington Post, September 2, 2015. [↩]
- “End Identity Theft Caused by Adoption,” August 22nd, 2015, and “No One Should Place False Facts on Birth Certificates,” October 20th, 2015. [↩]
- Sandy Musser, “An Executive Order to Restore Original Birth Certificates to Adult Adoptees by enacting the Adoptees Restoration Act,” Petition to be sent to President Obama, MoveOn.org., 2013 to 2016. [↩]
- The International Korean Adoptee Associations, Fourth International Symposium on Korean Adoption Studies, Seoul, Korea, August 2016. [↩]
- Penny Mackieson, “Birth Certificates: The Elephant In The Room In Gender And Adoption Debates,” The New Matilda, Victoria, Australia, October 20, 2016 [↩]
- Hague Adoption Process, Intercountry Adoption, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State, October 2, 2013. [↩]