House passes bill opening access to adoptee birth certificates

All adopted persons born in Massachusetts would have a way to access their original birth certificate under a bill the House passed Thursday morning, which advocates say grants adopted persons equity and fairness.

The legislation (H 2294), filed by Reps. Sean Garballey and Kate Hogan, would close a 34-year period where persons born during that timeframe cannot access their original birth certificate without a court order. An adopted child himself, Garballey said he is "ecstatic" that the House passed the bill.

"From my perspective, [the bill] ensures equality and dignity for all those adopted in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," the Arlington Democrat told State House News Service. "To me, this is a matter of fairness and it helps adopted people in Massachusetts learn about their own personal and medical history, which is so critical."

Under current state law, an adopted person born between July 17, 1974 and Jan. 1, 2008 cannot access their original birth certificate without obtaining a court order that unseals the record. Adopted persons outside of that window can access their original birth certificate once they turn 18 or with the help of their adoptive parents.

The legislation would erase the gap and allow adopted persons over the age of 18 to access their original birth certificate or the adopted parents of a child under 18 to access the document.

Adoptee Rights Law Center founder Gregory Luce said people often forget that the original birth certificate "is not the birth parents' birth certificate, it's the adoptees' birth certificate."

"These are the only people in the United States who do not have access to their own original birth certificate," Luce said. "[The bill] makes it so that they, at age 18, can obtain their birth certificate and have it for themselves and do whatever they want with it. Some may try to search and find a birth parent identified on the birth certificate, some are very happy just to have the information."

Critics of laws closing similar decades-long gaps point to birth parents' right to confidentiality, according to Luce, but he said bills like the one in Massachusetts are a "modern approach" to how adoption and access to records should have been for decades.

"It's overdue, and they need to modernize how people think about what it means to make a person's birth secret," Luce said. "It has unintended damaging results so that's the correction we're seeking now."

Luce, an adoptee, obtained his original birth certificate from the District of Columbia.

"It was very meaningful to have it even though I knew all the information on it," he said. "It's partially verification that you were born on this date, to this person, in this place whereas your amended birth certificate after an adoption is not correct at all. You were not born to your adoptive parents."

The bill cleared the House last session but did not come up for a vote in the Senate. This session, lawmakers and advocates urged elected officials to pass the bill during a Public Health Committee hearing in May, where former Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson testified in support of the proposal.

The Senate version (S 1440), filed by Sen. Anne Gobi, has eight additional co-sponsors including Public Health Committee co-chair Sen. Jo Comerford and Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Sal DiDomenico.

Gobi said last year's version of the bill may have fallen victim to the deluge of pandemic-related policies that took priority as the Legislature navigated the COVID-19 public health crisis.

"It's gone through the House before and unfortunately, last year with COVID, we know what happened ... a lot of good bills got caught up in the process," Gobi said. "So I'm hoping with it getting through this early in the session, that we'll be able to move on it sooner than later in the Senate as well."

Connecticut lawmakers and Gov. Ned Lamont approved a similar law in June that allows all adopted adults to receive their original birth certificate. Under previous Connecticut law, adoptees could only access the record with a court order and the consent of the birth parents if the adoption was completed on or before Oct. 1, 1983.

Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an equivalent bill into law in November 2019 that allows adoptees to access certified birth certificates. The New York law took effect on Jan. 15, 2020.


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