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On the passing of Howard Metzenbaum

First, I advise readers to read my brief diary on Daily Kos about how I primarily relate to and remember the former Ohio Senator.

AFTERWARDS, read down through the rest of this.

On some of the comment threads on dKos and elsewhere about the Senator’s passing, expressions of gratitude from adoptive parents have appeared a few places. So tonight I took some time to write about the former Senator and his adoption specific legacy.

Let me state from the outset, that I am an adult, adopted in Ohio. Further I support the restoration of adoptee original birth certificates which the state has for many of us sealed away from us; I support open records.

So, since others have brought it up, I feel it’s important to say a few words.

Yes, the former Senator was involved in many aspects of adoption related legislation, as an example, Metzenbaum sponsored the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994 which barred racial discrimination in adoptive placements.

That has led to ongoing discussion about whether or not cross-ethnic placements have been a positive thing or a damaging thing.

(Me? I’m not touching that one with a ten foot pole. Being legally barred from knowing my ancestry, but being darn clear on the paleness of my own skin, I just don’t feel I have terribly much to say on the subject, other than how some of the orphan train placements were little more than a form of forced labor for some children and how ‘indian boarding schools’ were well, in my opinion, nothing short of an intentional form of cultural genocide.)

Instead I want to narrow in on what I feel to be the unfortunate aspects of the Senator’s adoption legacy, yes written from where I sit, as an adult denied my own birth certificate by State law and ongoing State interference. That said, no doubt your mileage may vary.

Being an adult adopted in Ohio, some of his work on adoption is one of the very few places I had some disagreements with him.

Particularly his work in the late 80’s on the Abandoned Infants Assistance Act of 1988, a forerunner to today’s “Baby Moses Laws”/”Baby dump laws”/”Legalized infant Abandonment laws”/”Baby Safe Haven Laws” (spearheaded by the National Council for Adoption, an adoption industry lobby created specifically to ensure adopted people’s original birth certificates remain forever sealed to them, after already having been confiscated by the State upon our adoptions, thus lobbying to permanently erase our genetic and historic identities.)

While the bill was being done in the name of helping children with AIDS ‘abandoned’ in hospitals, it was a NCFA lobbied bill that created precedents, both in terms of children labeled “abandoned” and in terms of State grants to adopters, which today, at NCFA’s urging has expanded greatly into tax breaks for adoption etc. (Unfortunately, the primary beneficiaries of such tax breaks it turns out are not those most in need of such to finance an otherwise impossible adoption, but instead the tax breaks are going to the the already wealthy.)

Again, while all this is being done ‘for the sake of the children,’ NCFA with it’s extensive connections to the Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council, Anti-abortion Catholic groups, WAL*MART and Mormons has been no friend to adopted people or first parents.

And unfortunately, Howard Metzenbaum, like many well intentioned people was a friend to NCFA, perhaps not understanding that NCFA represented the industry, not adopted people or our families (plural).

Sadly, it was perhaps the most glaring example of where Howard sided with industry rather than the directly affected, and I can’t tell you how deeply that saddened me (read my diary from earlier tonight on Senator Metzenbaum’s passing if for one instant you think he wasn’t a personal hero to me.)

His ties to NCFA were heartbreaking to me, yet it’s likely that no one ever explained to him precisely what it was he was supporting. The first adopted babies of the baby-scoop-era didn’t reach adulthood until roughly 1960, and many didn’t find their political voice on adoption issues and sealed records, nor really found organizations etc until the 70’s and 80’s.

NCFA awarded “Friend of Adoption” awards that eventually grew into their “Adoption hall of fame”. Howard Metzenbaum was one of the first recipients back in 1982.

Am I blaming him? No, at the time NCFA was working very hard to appear ‘non-partisan’ and ‘evenhanded’ in its political ties. Unfortunately, that was not, and to this day ever more clearly is not what NCFA is. Now that the former head of NCFA, Bill Pierce has died, and wingnut infrastucture has become yet more institutionalized, NCFA’s ties to that ever developing wingnut infrastructure have grown and become far more visible.

NCFA was founded after the Draft Model State Adoption Act (DMSAA) was produced in 1979 by a Carter administration advisory committee. The adoption industry (agencies, Catholic Charities, politically connected powerful agencies such as Gladney in TX- which today has many Bush family ties) studied the DMSAA, saw the “open records” provisions, and by means of re-entrenching their permanent secrecy stance (which conveniently covers any misdeeds they might have been involved in) reacted by creating NCFA to lobby and ‘educate’ in Washington.

I consider it tragic that Senator Metzenbaum, who so often sided with the whistleblowers, the disadvantaged, and in his abortion access advocacy, the side of womyn who were pregnant, was convinced to champion to very legislation that silenced womyn’s voices, and disempowered adopted children, now adults by siding with those who held real control in so many situations- the industry.

All of which is to say, that when people use words like ‘adoption’ rather than jumping to conclusions that they must be ‘doing good work’, it becomes that much more important to do due diligence.

On the other hand, was Sen. Metzenbaum aware of who he had sided with? Was he pro-sealed records?

I hope not, for if he personally was, it creates a very uncomfortable ‘exception’ to the rest of his life’s work.

At this point we’ll never know. That doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate the man for so MANY of the other things he did, yet question this one area.

He will always be, to a degree a hero of mine, but when it came to adoption, best intentions aside, his actions and the ‘legitimacy’ his presence provided are to me at least, heartbreaking.

One Response to “On the passing of Howard Metzenbaum”

  1. Marley Greiner Says:

    Thanks for the comments on Howard and adoption.

    I think a lot of people got snookered by NCFA early on. NCFA was founded with 2 goals in mind, keeping records sealed and “promoting adoption.” It’s right in their incorporation papers. I think Bill downplayed the secrecy aspects of NCFA, at least when he was getting “names” to work with him. (And when it was founded in 1980, secrecy was the norm. There was no organized open record movement and open adoption was rare). This is a guess, but I’m sure Howard was promoting adoption and the rest of it went right by him. And if he thought about it, secrecy would have been normal

    The people who show up in th early records of NCFA it’s pretty surprising. Dave Thomas was there for awhile, even did a golf tournament for them, and then when he found out what was going on, quietly resigned. They had a celebrity board with people like Oscar de la Renta, (he may have been on the real board, I don’t rembmer) Meryl Streep, Patti LaBelle, Scott Hamilton, and the Carruthers (ice skating brother and sister). Now the only celebrity they can get is (darn, I forget his name) a country singer.

    Bill kept NCFA balanced. He always made sure that the president of the board was “pro-choice.” As an old leftie (and in some ways he maintained that) he worked easily with liberals. Atfer her retired he ridiculed the new kids on the block with their suits and their their new building, and their runs up to the White House. NCFA went from a conservative but “normal” organization to a rightwing something. I don’t know what to call it now.

    NCFA was personality driven. Now it has no personalities there, and there’s no real core. It’s corporate. It’s gotten a lot more money but sometimes I think it’s running on empty On year it’s pimping international adoption, the next year domestic adoption. It’s trying to harvest moms and kids, then it’s flogging foster to adopt. It gives me a headache. I prefer the old days so much more. with its vendettas and public fights.

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