Op - Ed, Opinion

Adopted Vermonters deserve equal rights

By Rebecca Dragon, Rebekah Henson, Mary Anna King and Ellie Lane

Editor’s note: Dragon of Pownal, Henson of Hartford, King of Quechee, and Lane of Braintree together make up the Vermont Adoptee Rights Working Group, a core partner of the New England Adoptee Rights Coalition.

Accessing your birth certificate is a basic civil right. It is so basic that you probably don’t think about it. Unless you are adopted.

When a person is adopted, the state seals their original birth certificate (the one that lists their biological parents). A new, amended birth certificate is issued in its place, listing the adoptive parents as if they are the biological parents. In 1941, Vermont passed a law denying adopted people the right to view or obtain a copy of their own original birth certificates.

Later updates allowed some access, but Vermont law currently allows a birth parent— or birth sibling if the birth parent is dead— to block adoptees from accessing their own vital record. The only other American citizens that are blocked from accessing their own original birth certificates are people in the witness protection program.

Vermont adoptees must navigate an unequal system to obtain their original birth certificates.

Non-adopted Vermonters can obtain a copy of their birth certificate by requesting a copy from the Department of Health for $12. Getting a certified copy takes about a week.

Adopted Vermonters, however, must navigate a maze-like “registry” system to request a birth record permission slip (which the registry may deny them).

The form required to begin the process — the Adoptee Consent Form— is not publicly available. Adoptees must contact the registry and request it. This form requires an applicant’s social security number, driver’s license number, and must be notarized before being submitted to the registry.

Once submitted, the process differs for people adopted before and after July 1, 1986. For people adopted before that date, the registry checks to see if their birth parents have explicitly consented to disclose their identifying information. For people adopted after that date, the registry checks if a birth parent has filed a non-disclosure request.

If— and only if— consent requirements are met, the adoptee receives their birthparents’ names and last known contact information. The adoptee must then request a note from the registry stating that the adoptee is qualified to apply for a copy of their own original birth certificate.

With this permission slip in hand, the adopted person can request a non-certified copy of their original birth certificate from the Department of Health.

This process can take more than a year. But today, it is the only way for Vermont adoptees to get their own birth certificate (unless they obtain a court order to release it).

It doesn’t have to be this way. Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York grant adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. Vermont is one of the last New England states to retain an antiquated law requiring adopted people to get a state-issued “permission slip” to obtain their own vital records. Vermont’s House Judiciary Committee is currently considering a bill that would update current law to allow more adopted people access to their vital records.

This is laudable.

But restoring the rights of Vermont adoptees will require the support of more than the House Judiciary Committee. Correcting this decades-long inequity will require the support of the entire Vermont Legislature. To obtain that, we seek the support of all Vermonters. Your birth certificate belongs to you.

And adoptees’ birth certificates belong to them. Vermont’s current law reflects the myth that adopted people only want their birth certificates in order to contact biological relatives.

Many adoptees want their original birth certificates simply because it is the true documentation of their birth. It is the true record of the moment they entered this world.

The information on a birth certificate is not enough to locate a person. But it is enough to tell an adopted person if their ancestors were Irish or Abenaki. It is enough to unlock an exploration of Italian cooking or Ashkenazi genetics. It is enough to tether someone to their heritage.

The path forward is clear.

In 1973 while states were still actively revoking adopted people’s rights to their own birth certificates, the Child Welfare League of America took a stand against this violation of rights, stating: “In our society greater emphasis than in the past is being placed on the right of all people to know the contents of various records kept about them and on the civil rights of previously overlooked groups.”

Vermont has a long history of advocating for equal rights for all people. We—the Vermont Adoptee Rights Working Group and the New England Adoptee Rights Coalition— are asking Vermont to grant adopted Vermonters the same rights as non-adopted Vermonters. Vermont should join its New England neighbors— and a growing number of states around the country— in restoring all adopted people’s basic human rights. We cannot continue to support an outdated, complex, and discriminatory law that denies adopted people the records of their own births.

For more info visit the website at newenglandadoptees.org.

One comment on “Adopted Vermonters deserve equal rights

  1. I found my birth parents and they are both dead now. They wouldn’t care if I got my birth certificate. My adopters just died in the past year and they were supportive of me searching for my bio family. So why does the State still keep me from having a copy of my real, unaltered birth record? It’s mine!

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