Governor Andrew Cuomo heard us loud and clear and he vetoed A5036B on December 29, 2017. Here is his memo to the legislature. We’ll have more news and updates soon.
We asked for support in requesting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s veto of A5036B, a restrictive anti-adoptee rights bill that the New York Senate and State Assembly passed. Details about that bill are here.
More than 45 organizations from around the world responded, representing a broad and diverse group of organizations involved in adoptee rights and adoption reform. The letter to Governor Cuomo has been delivered. As of November 19, 2017, the legislature has not forwarded the bill to Governor Cuomo for consideration.
A copy of the letter’s text is below, and a PDF copy of the final letter is also available here. We thank everyone who endorsed the letter or sent supporting emails, postcards, or notes.
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
New York State State Capitol Building
Albany, New York 12224
RE: Veto of A5036B/S4845B
Dear Governor Cuomo:
We are a diverse group of adoptees, organizations, birthparents, adoptive parents, professionals, and allies who support equal civil and human rights for all adoptees. Many of us also work on behalf of millions of adult adoptees in the United States, including more than 600,000 in New York, who seek to restore the right of adult adoptees to obtain their own original birth certificates (OBC), without restriction or condition.
We are united in requesting:
- Your veto of A5036B/S4845B (“A5036B”), which if enacted will continue to abrogate the rights of New York adoptees;
- Your return of A5036B to the New York State Assembly with a note to move forward on a different, better, and fiscally responsible bill that provides actual and genuine equality for adult adoptees; and
- Your support of currently active adoptee rights companion bills in the New York State Assembly and Senate (S5169A/A6821A). Unlike A5036B, these bills unequivocally restore the right of New York adult adoptees to access their own original birth certificates. They recognize that New York’s outdated 1930s-era adoption policies do not promote anyone’s rights, particularly in the age of DNA tests, genetic genealogy, social media, and other technological advances that have made adoption secrecy obsolete.
What A5036B Does
A5036B is not an adoptee rights bill. If enacted, it will not restore an adult adoptee’s right to an original birth certificate. It has no support from any adoptee rights organizations and has been met with broad derision and rebuke from adoptees and the adoption community in the United States and internationally. It is instead a complicated and convoluted bill that will, if enacted, create a complex and expensive process that favors bureaucracy over rights and fiscal irresponsibility over outcomes. The bill, which did not receive a hearing:
- Requires the judiciary to handle adult adoptee requests for release of an original birth certificate;
- Requires the judiciary to refer those requests to the New York State Department of Health (DOH), which must, at taxpayer cost, attempt to locate and notify birthparents of the adoptee’s request within 120 days;
- Requires the DOH to develop “confirmation” forms that DOH provides birthparents for completion. A birthparent may request “continued confidentiality” on the form or indicate consent to release the adoptee’s unredacted original birth certificate;
- Gives birthparents a special “right” —which no other parent or party possesses— to redact information from a government-issued birth certificate;
- Requires the DOH to report to the judiciary on the status of searches and notifications;
- Requires additional judicial review and gives “discretion” to a judge to release, or redact, an original birth certificate if a birthparent has died or cannot be located and notified;
- Does not allow descendants of adoptees to request the adoptee/ancestor’s original birth certificate, no matter the date of the ancestor’s birth;
- Requires the DOH to develop a costly and “widely disseminated” publicity campaign to promote the New York adoption registry and to educate the public on the specific provisions of A5036B;
- Does not appropriate funds to provide training and support for the mandated DOH search and notification process, which can be laboriously expensive and highly unreliable, given that decades have passed since the birth of most adoptees. Assuming very conservatively that just 6,000 New York adoptees apply for their OBC in the first year, the fiscal impact on the DOH is likely in the millions of dollars, particularly when the search and notification process must be completed within 120 days.
The bill is economically unsound. It will require a significant shift of state agency resources and personnel away from executive budget priorities and into an unnecessary and expensive bureaucratic process that is intended solely to benefit a tiny number of birthparents who purportedly wish to remain anonymous.
Support for Genuine Adoptee Rights
Existing laws in other states have upheld an adult adoptee’s unrestricted access to an original birth certificate proactively, equitably, and without undue disruption to anyone involved in the adoption. Original birth certificates in Kansas and Alaska have always been available upon request to adult adoptees, without incident or issue. Colorado, Hawaii, Alabama, Oregon, Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire also provide adult adoptees with unrestricted access to their own original birth certificates, doing so through a simple request to the state DOH/Vital Statistics and without the need for complex systems involving searches, intermediaries, counseling, or requirements other than what all non-adopted persons are required to do: pay a nominal fee and supply government identification.
Laws change constantly, and the state, lawyers, social workers, and others were never in a position to promise anonymity in adoption. In fact, in the over forty years of the adoptee equality movement, not one document has been submitted anywhere that promises or guarantees sealed records and an anonymity “right” to birthparents. Rather, the vast majority of birthparents say they did not and do not want anonymity, but that it was forced upon them by the state.
In addition, identifying information about surrendering parents often appears in court documents given to adoptive parents who can at any point give that information to the adopted person. In some states adoptive parents, at the time of adoption finalization, can ask the court to keep the record open. The names of surrendering parents are published in legal ads. Courts can open “sealed records” for “good cause.” Critically, the OBC is sealed at the time of adoption finalization, not surrender. If a child is not adopted, the record is never sealed. If a child is adopted, but the adoption is overturned or disrupted, the OBC is unsealed.
States have addressed concerns about birthparent privacy through the use of a contact preference form (CPF), a form that birthparents may voluntarily submit to indicate whether they do or do not prefer contact with the adoptee. The form is then included in the adoption file and forwarded to the adoptee along with the OBC if and when the OBC is requested. The CPF does not affect the release of the OBC to the adoptee.
A5036B falls far short of these measures and, in fact, closely resembles a forty-year old Minnesota law that the Minnesota state registrar recently described as “complicated at best” because it “has gaps, creates inequities, and is cumbersome to oversee and operate.”
If enacted, A5036B will become just that: a law that one of your executive agencies will determine to be cumbersome and difficult to implement without incurring significant cost and simultaneously creating inequity and complications. It is a law that no adoptee wants. It is also a law that taxpayers will find difficult to reconcile with your own executive, budgetary, and civil rights priorities.
A Way to Move Forward
At the recent assembly floor debate over A5036B, Assemblymember Dean Murray— a cosponsor of the bill—-changed his vote and called for advancement of, and ultimately cosponsored, a “better bill”—after hearing from hundreds of constituents like us. As he said from the floor:
What surprised me was every single one of these emails, every single one of these messages I got, they begged me to please vote no on this. As much as— as I said, I’m a cosponsor of the bill and I recognize what we’re trying to do, but when we have the people we’re trying to help reaching out begging, saying please vote no on this, I’m going to have to vote in the negative on this bill . . .
Now it’s my turn to beg. I’m going to beg and I’m going to plead the majority leadership to let the other bill move forward. Let the bill move forward that is going to deliver what [adoptees] really want and need.
Other assembly members and senators expressed similar reservations, stating that “better bills” were available and that they in fact supported those bills. Indeed, numerous legislators this past session endorsed and supported the two “better” companion bills—S5169A and A6821A, known as the Adoptee Bill of Rights.
These bills will restore an adult adoptee’s unrestricted access to an original record of birth and create equal birth certificate access for all New York adoptees. The bills treat the state’s adoptees as equal to non-adopted persons by eliminating a currently humiliating, costly, and rarely successful process that adoptees must endure when requesting their own birth certificates. S5169A and A6821A recognize and restore the right to OBC access that all New York adoptees enjoyed until 1935, and reflect a simple, inclusive, and unrestricted access framework that nine states have successfully implemented.
In vetoing A5036B, you will continue efforts to reform New York’s law to assure equality for all adult adoptees. Your veto of A5036B would serve to put genuine adoptee rights back on the legislative agenda. That is the way forward, not a regressive, complicated, and costly bill that does little except create and enshrine new “rights” and perpetuate a policy of discrimination that fails to reflect democratic values of equality.
Adoptee access to their own original birth certificates is not a radical idea. Adoptees instead ask for nothing more than the right to their own birth certificates, a right that the non-adopted enjoy without a second thought. Adoptees are not asking for “special rights;” they ask only for restoration of a right in New York that was once theirs.
We ask that you veto A5036B and return the bill to the legislature with a note to pursue better legislation. We request your support for a true adoptee rights bill. We ask that you send a strong message of support for equal rights, as exemplified by S5169A/A6821A.