From all reports, the clean adoptee rights bill in Texas is dead, at least it is dead as written and introduced. The bill, HB2725, failed to make it out of the Public Health Committee in the House, and while there is apparently last-minute pressure to amend the bill to add dirty amendments, the general thought is that the bill will not move further this session. Why? That’s a good question.
One answer involves opposition. Another answer involves us—i.e., adoptee rights advocates.
As for opposition, it’s fairly clear that State Senator Donna Campbell continues to oppose equality for adult adoptees in Texas, no matter the damage it does to all people involved in an adoption. While she has said nothing publicly during consideration of HB2725 in the House, opposition appeared to develop along two lines, one typical, the other a little strange.
The typical opposition came from those who believe birthparents retain a right to anonymity forty or fifty or two hundred years after signing relinquishment documents, despite such arguments being cruelly wrong and misguided. The other opposition developed from adoptive parents or, more likely, adoptive parents operating as proxies for undisclosed opposition. This came, of all places, from the Texas governor’s office. After all, Governor Greg Abbott is an adoptive parent. But the question from his office wasn’t about privacy. It was along the lines of “won’t this change closed adoptions into open adoptions?” And the concern appeared to be the fear of adoptees—as adults—simply having information about their birthparents. That line of questioning has been common in the past but it has faded more recently once people understand that open adoptions involve a non-binding arrangement between parents and the adoptive child. This made the appearance this session all the more surprising. Besides, in the last two sessions Abbott has never raised the issue.
These lines of questioning continued into the public hearing last week, with Rep. James Frank asking about birthparent privacy and hinting at abortion but not mentioning the word, and Rep. John Wray listening carefully but ultimately asking a series of questions and making comments as if he was forwarding on Abbott’s concerns:
I do, however, think [the law] has an element to protect, I think, the adoptive parent. To kind of maintain the legal construct that the adoptive parents are the parents . . . I’m just curious about the right of the adoptive parent.
The hearing was ultimately a disaster, with STAR founder Connie Gray even suggesting we follow the “Mike Pence” approach of Indiana, which is a mess and is nowhere near a solution “similar” to HB2725, which Gray actually argued. Despite Rep. Calanni’s office requesting that we limit testimony to two people per organization, more than a dozen people ultimately testified, leading to prolonged consideration, further questions, and plenty of opportunity to confuse legislators. Remember, though, this is a bill that—in a nearly identical form—-passed the House 138 to 1 in an earlier session. (On top of all this, opposition is coming from fiscal quarters, namely an absurd $370,000+ fiscal note for the first year to support in part two full-time employees allegedly needed to process optional contact preference forms).
We are also partly to blame. Not me, not TXARC, but advocates who do not wish to work together to unite around a central bottom line of equality. For all.
I’ve written about Texas before and why advocates there are sometimes unwilling to engage in advocacy as things heat up. This is what I wrote nearly two years ago:
STAR, the advocacy group currently leading the efforts for OBC access in Texas, does not commit unequivocally to adoptee equality—i.e., like [now defunct Donaldson Institute], STAR refuses to commit up front to a no-compromise solution. This is not only something important to Bastard Nation but it is something all adoptees deserve, particularly when we are asked repeatedly to throw in our support.
When STAR’s bill began to languish in the Texas Senate [in 2017], STAR sent out a plea that asked people to sign a petition to bring Donna Campbell to the negotiating table. STAR did not reveal the specific why or what of such a move, and it characterized it as a request for Campbell to join the bill’s sponsor and pass an unrestricted OBC access bill. Donna Campbell, however, is never going to agree to unrestricted access in Texas. Ever. But she has done one thing: speak positively about birth parent veto power, particularly the one in Indiana’s new law. So when STAR repeatedly floats an Indiana solution on Twitter for weeks and then announces a petition that seeks to convince Campbell to work with the bill’s sponsor on legislation, there’s really no other conclusion that compromise is likely being placed on the table.
Except that’s not how it’s sold, and that’s not what advocates are given up front. It’s also why I didn’t sign the petition. Because STAR does not commit unequivocally to a no-compromise solution, advocates who adhere to such a principle are naturally if not wholly reluctant to provide last minute support. Signing a petition in such a context means you are open to if not fully supportive of the resulting compromise, for the simple fact that there is no commitment from advocates up front to kill such compromise. Had STAR made that commitment up front, unequivocally, I would have readily signed the petition. But we are instead asked to have faith in STAR’s commitment to adoptee rights without STAR having to make such a public commitment itself.
Is STAR to blame for what’s happening in Texas now? It’s too early to say. They’ve supported HB2725 unreservedly so far, but that’s easy. Now is the hard part. With current pressure to amend the bill to add discriminatory provisions, it’s unclear if they will “wink” and let it happen, then support discriminatory provisions as an Indiana solution and characterize it simply as “doing the best we can.”
And it’s not as if TXARC—a coalition of state and national groups, including the Adoptee Rights Law Center— has ignored STAR. TXARC specifically asked it to work with them and not to support discriminatory provisions. It asked most recently on Monday, when word came down that the bill was not going to move forward as drafted and that discriminatory amendments were already under consideration. TXARC asked STAR not to support HB2725 further, for the reasons set out in a post here (and similar to what I just posted above).
STAR didn’t answer the requests. It also has not acknowledged anywhere—at least anywhere publicly so far —that HB2725 three days ago failed to make it out of committee. That’s the oddest part: not telling supporters and adoptees what’s actually happening and what it all means. Unless, of course, the plan is to continue as if nothing has happened and that compromise for adoptees is a natural and expected process—that we all just need to ignore again what we ask of anyone who represents us, whether a state representative or advocate: we ask for equal treatment as all people deserve. Sixty-two years after Texas closed its vital records to adoptees, we remain independent and equal adults, not perpetual children of adoption. Understand that. And get it right.