The term clean, when used in the context of adoptee rights and OBC legislation, has been getting a beating lately. Not just from legislators and advocates who believe that adoptees do not deserve a clean right to their own birth certificate but also in how the term is used and thrown around, kinda willy nilly.
Lately, I’ve seen it used as simply clean, without quotes. In other instances it is set off by quotation marks, like “clean,” as if we are winking when we say it and don’t quite mean it, or mean it ironically. Then there’s the quotes and caps approach, as in “CLEAN,” like we kinda don’t mean it but we still really want you to hear it and maybe it will sink in. Obviously, people and reporters use it describe legislation, as in a clean bill, or a “clean” bill or, for effect, “CLEAN” adoption reform, though in a recent news story the reporter simply called the New York bill “Clean,” as in “Clean Bill,” with nothing else. A bill—that’s clean.
I Use Equal Rights
I no longer use “clean” to describe legislation, though I do use it occasionally in conversation. Instead, I use “equal rights” as the more accurate descriptor, as in an equal rights bill. It’s far more descriptive and accurate when we discuss what we mean by “clean.”
I’ve thought about dropping the word from any further public descriptions of adoptee rights bills and simply giving each bill a memorable title, as in the New York Adoptee Rights Bill or the Weprin/Montgomery Bill. Clean should always be the default when we discuss and advocate on this issue, while dirty is the defined term, the aberration. So that when a bill goes bad and is amended to include discriminatory restrictions, it is dirty, outside the realm of acceptability. It is a discriminatory bill that we should all oppose.
But what do we mean when we mean clean? The easiest way for me to describe it is to quote directly from the commitment many of us in coalitions have agreed to in writing as part of the coalition’s internal governance. And that means no member organization in the coalition will support discriminatory legislation, period. It is the bottom line that we must agree to in advance. It means that each member organization “will not in any way provide or express support, whether publicly or privately, for legislation in [the applicable state] that would restrict an adult adoptee’s right to obtain his or her own original birth certificate (OBC) upon request.” This commitment means that the member will support only unrestricted OBC-related bills and will oppose bills that contain:
- requirements that a third-party consent to or approve the release of the OBC (sometimes called a disclosure veto);
- provisions that allow redaction or removal of information contained on the OBC;
- provisions that require participation in a registry or involvement of an intermediary in order to obtain an OBC;
- unreasonable age requirements or waiting periods before an adult adoptee may request an OBC;
- educational requirements, such as completion of secondary or any other school;
- tiered or date-based-access to the OBC, such that adult adoptees are treated differently under the law based on dates of birth or adoption;
- any other provisions that would create less than an unconditional right for adult adoptees to obtain their OBCs.
Clean is defined as the absence of discrimination. It is also a term that unites us against that discrimination. It is, in fact, a term that is used not only in our own legislative context but in others, such as Dreamers or DACA recipients who define and stick to a bottom line when advocating for immigrant rights. Clean unites. Dirty divides. I pledge clean, and while I may drop the term in public descriptions or not give it a prominent place, one thing is always understood: clean is what all bills should be. It is an absolute default and bottom line. I commit to that, and I will not apologize for or qualify that commitment with silence, or an asterisk, or anything else.