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“Expendables”- the human toll of legislation that “compromises” us away

I’ve been writing pretty much since early on in this blog (at least November ’07 here) about what being “left behind and forgotten” means in practice in terms of myself personally. I’m one of Ohio’s Black Hole Bastards.

I am one of an undetermined number of people, at least 150,000, adopted in Ohio between the dates of January 1, 1964 and September 17th, 1996 that were simply left out in the cold again in terms of records access as a result of Ohio’s 1996 adoption deform law. We are left as beggars.

To understand what being black holed means, we have to first examine Ohio’s existing adoption records access laws.

Ohio’s YES, NO, MAYBE records access-

Pre-January 1, 1964– records are (mostly) open, anyone adopted before the date can receive upon request their adoption envelope from Ohio Vital Statistics UNLESS sometime after 1964, someone requested the “reissuance” of a birth certificate in the adopted name, in which case, the original birth certificate was sealed.

biggestbkhole.jpg January 1, 1964- September 17, 1996– (The black hole) anyone whose adoption was finalized during these years must petition the probate court where their adoption was granted to gain a court order and access to their adoption folder (Adoptees who are unaware of where their adoption was finalized can petition any Ohio county’s probate court). The probate court then forwards the request to Ohio vital statistics, who in turn searches for releases from parents or siblings authorizing vital statistics to release the information to the adult adoptee. The court can only release the information if the release has been filed, and even if previously granted, authorization can be withdrawn at any time.

September 18, 1996– anyone adopted after this date, upon turning 18 with parents’ consent, or 21 years old can request and receive the contents of the their adoption envelope ONLY IF the parent(s) or a sibling have provided an affirmative consent. (which goes beyond your typical a parental veto system, instead creating a system whereby the default setting is “no access” unless affirmative assent is given, a fact many parents and siblings may not be aware of.)

(Ohio also has a passive reunion registry which requires both parties register before any action could be undertaken. Registries falsely conflate reunion between individuals with records access from the State.)

How on earth did Ohio’s adoption records access laws get to be such a convoluted mess? Well, here’s John DeHaven’s summary of the history of Ohio law. HB 84 back in 1985 pried open (almost all of) the pre-64 folders. Though clearly, even those “open” years have their one ‘special’ exception.

The 1996 bill instead of building on Ohio’s attempted openness, instead created a convoluted monstrosity of a law that locks families behind layers of lack of access with arbitrarily derived ‘tier’ dates added.

The ’96 law also had other “goodies” tucked onto it, such as:

  • writing into Ohio law that after a court finalizes an adoption the parents cannot change their mind about making the child available to adoption
  • the father’s time frame for coming forward was set at 30 days
  • parents who were deemed to have abandoned the child lost all rights to contest adoptions.

All three of which were gifts to the industry in the wake of high profile court cases in which parents had won rights to their children back. These three changes were aimed at ensuring that adoption challenges and parental rights would be kept to a minimum.

blackhole1.jpgFor those of us who are then, black holed, we have no recourse other than to beg our finalization county probate court. Whether or not a process on our files is even begun is ultimately left to the whim of the local judge.

Find your Judge is receptive? Lucky you, now a process will at least begin. Find a Judge who isn’t willing to entertain your petition? You’re screwed until they’re out of office, then you get to start all over again.

I’ve been through that.

Even those born after the black holed years are still duly relatively screwed, locked behind Ohio’s MAYBE portion of access.

The man who drafted Ohio’s original law sealing the records in the first place, (out of a vested personal interest in keeping his own adopted children’s adoptions out of publicly available records,) William B. Norris, has since testified before the Ohio House to it having been a “grave mistake.” (Link opens a PDF.)

He characterized the “absurd anomaly in Ohio” he himself was so intrinsic to creating as a form of “unnecessary discrimination”:

… I now recognize that closing those birth records to adoptees whose adoptions were finalized after January 1, 1964 was a grave mistake. This has resulted in unnecessary discrimination by denying to a special group of citizens the right to have access to their original birth certificates.

It is now obvious to me that the 1964 legislation produced an absurd anomaly in Ohio, and it is painful to reflect on the fact that these changes in the law were made in the belief that they were in the best interests of the entire adoptive process. The absurdity I speak of can be clearly demonstrated by the fact that two of my children (whose adoptions were finalized before 1964) enjoy rights of access to their original birth certificates, which rights are not enjoyed by the my youngest child (who was actually born in 1963 but whose adoption was not finalized until after January 1, 1964.)

I, and others like me, are those who have grown up under that discriminatory system.

The access Mr. Norris was such a part of obliterating, was then further destructively codified by the ’96 law.

The ’96 bill created a new barrier, the vetos. Previously, parents had no right of veto, the ’96 law created a new ‘right’ for parents to gain a ‘say’ over the disposition of adoptees’ records where none had existed before.

So now, as a result of the disastrous ’96 law, we now likewise have a new class of Bastards, those locked behind vetos, barred from accessing the authentic record of their own birth under the newly created ‘right’ (the constitutionality of which has never been determined.)

Ironic, in that, if parents were to lose their parental rights to a set a twins and only one entered an adoption and had their records sealed yet the other remained in foster care, never adopted, the parents’ newfound “right” would only apply to the child adopted, they have no rights, parental or otherwise, in relation to the child who was never adopted.

ohioimage.gifThe Ohio system, such as it is is not merely discriminatory, it is outright arbitrary, assigning ‘rights’ and lack thereof on little more than accident of birth, or adoption, as the case may be.

But whatever one cares to call it, don’t call it just.

It sets up multiple arbitrarily created classes of people who are either granted rights, or have rights stripped of them willy-nilly. It amounts to a patchwork of those disenfranchised, treated legally as second class citizens, and considered expendable living alongside others arbitrarily deemed worthy.

alicecourt.jpgAs for those of us left behind and forgotten, we’re Alice down the rabbit hole, never knowing what form of treatment under law we may come to receive next. Treatment that can quite literally can come down to what kind of mood a Judge should happen to be in as they come to work on any given day.

To then be confronted with alleged “reform” efforts such as the California Adoptee Reform Effort which makes perfectly clear on their website they view their projected 101 adopted people’s access as fully within their tolerances of expendabilty is to add insult to injury. That even so called “reformers” are willing to sell their fellow adoptee’s rights down the river makes the people behind CARE beneath contempt. They want their sick notion of ‘access for the majority’ at the direct expense of the access of a now deemed expendable minority.

These are what might at kindest be described as traitors in our midst.

They won’t even ask for what we as a class of people need, and before they even begin (as AB 372 is a placeholder bill), they flatly state they’re more than willing to trade the person standing next to them away. With “advocates” like that who the hell needs (our far more clear cut) opponents?

So once again, let me break it down for readers:

CARE, the California Adoptee Reform Effort folks are the sellouts who have already announced their intent to “bargain away” whatever percentage of adopted people’s rights. They are deformers.

no-compromise.jpgCalifornia Open, (also see their myspace) with their no veto resolution, are those willing to hold the line. They are unwilling to leave anyone behind, their rights left in tatters. They are the folks dedicated to achieving full open records/fully restored access for adult adoptees. They are the genuine activists here, deserving of our support.

To my reading, whether the folks behind California Open would personally identify as such or not, they are the folks worthy of the appellation “Bastard” to my definition of the word.

As I wrote in my WTF page linked off every page on my site:

To me, some core characteristics of a “Bastard” are;

1. An adoptee who is cognizant of and cares about ‘class Bastard.’ I.E. an adoptee who either inherently understands, or has moved beyond caring about issues of equality and access from a purely personal position of merely wanting equality for themselves, to understanding “personal solutions” are not the solution. A Bastard understands that ‘compromising away’ the person standing next to you in an effort to get something for oneself is simply unthinkable. We don’t jump in to get ours now by putting the Bastard standing next to us off with promises of “we’ll come back for you later.” A Bastard understands to the core of their being politically and interpersonally, “we leave no one behind/no one gets left behind or forgotten.” All of which is to say, Bastards have learned a number of lessons from history and incorporated such thinking into their everyday, perhaps now second nature, actions.


In any case, there have been a number of very good posts pertaining to the plight of us poor screwed Bastards over the past 24 hours, read ’em and weep:

73 Adoptee’s post- Compromise Legislation: Why Some Adoptees And Not Others?


BB Church’s post- 73adoptee Bears Witness for Those “Left Behind”

Sadly, I find myself in agreement with 73 Adoptee, there absolutely are those among us who see their own personal form of a ladder back up out of this mess is to stand on the heads or fingers of their fellow Adoptees.

Hardly surprising though, as particularly with groups of people who have endured discrimination, oftentimes people have been willing to flail about for some other set of people to put under their own boot as a sick sad form of personal attempt not to be the lowest on the food chain.

truebelievercover.jpgEric Hoffer‘s famous quotation from his book “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements”:

“I doubt if the oppressed ever fight for freedom. They fight for pride and for power — power to oppress others. The oppressed want above all to imitate their oppressors; they want to retaliate.”

while perhaps a vast over generalization, does contain that ugly grain of truth, that for some, (particularly some of those engaging in mass movement building,) they covet the powers of the oppressor for themselves.

This turning on still other oppressed groups can serve as a form of coping mechanism, or as an attempt at gaining favour with their oppressors. Yet it takes a very particular form of lack of empathy to turn on others internal to your own oppressed group and to in turn, view turning on them as not merely a viable course of action but as a valid course of action.

(Let’s be clear, though, is it however strategically valid to reject efforts by other members of your own group to short circuit or trade away others within the group? Of course. When one sees tactics being utilized that will ultimately harm the long term interests of said class, criticism and critique is not merely a valid course of action, it may crucial to the long term interests of all.)

This strategy (or reaction) of turning against one’s own, trading them away, ultimately has its basis in notions of scarcity or zero-sum-game-ism. The false notion that there are “but so many rights to go around,” and for one person to have some they must somehow come at a ‘cost’ to someone else.

Bastards reject such thinking. We understand that personal victory at the cost to others is no victory at all, and that in order for us to genuinely meet our ‘winning condition’ we need to bring all our members of our class status along with us.

We are unwilling to accept bones cast from the tables of those with power to placate us. We understand that the game of pitting adoptees’ rights against those of parents is a game of the industry, desperate to keep us fighting with one another within the confines of the false “triad”.

The so called “triad” is of course, a false and information hiding psuedo-structure. It’s a device used to hide the long term interests of those with genuine power.

pentagon1.gifWhen the full adoption pentagon is examined (with both of the other two positions/interests; agencies/ lawyers/ intermediaries/ lobbyists/ industry/ etc. and the State made visible) it becomes clear that there are other reasons far beyond the usual trope of the misapplied “privacy” term at play here. Both the various industry entangled factions and the State itself often have a vested interest in the continuance of sealed records, when such can be hidden under the false rubric of “privacy rights” so much the better.

Maintaining that squabbling betwixt the all too often relatively powerless positions in the pentagon (mislabled a “triad”) then only serves to continue to hide the other players and their interests, it provides an all too convenient distraction.

(And no, I haven’t gotten to part II or III of my “Privacy and consent; early notes, appropriate uses and co-optations of the terms” series yet. It’s still percolating.)

The fact remains, anytime these exceptions and variances are carved out, be they by lawmakers or deformers, there’s a very human toll.

Those of us left behind are essentially locked out.

Notions of equal treatment under law, then become a joke.

Do I as a late 1960’s adoptee enjoy the same treatment by the state of Ohio as a pre-1964 adoptee? Of course not. And why not? Because a line was arbitrarily drawn. They live on that side, and I’m trapped on this side.

The best I can hope for is to catch the right person in office at the right time in the right mood, AND things go right from there on in, and even then, at best it’s a mere ‘personal solution’. The adopted person beside me remains screwed.

Then compare the treatment of those of us who are adopted and locked behind sealed records to other Ohio born citizens. The core of my conclusion from that post?

But the bottom line remains, through no fault of our own, Bastards, as a class, who come from sealed records states are barred the very basic thing almost everyone else can demand of the State, an accurate account of our own births. And we are denied it not merely as individuals, but as a class. The State is both in the ‘business’ of maintaining birth records and of denying many Bastards theirs.

This is the face of inequality. Unequal access under the law.

We deserve better. Not just from states’ laws but from those who step forward insisting they advocate “on our behalf”.

Those willing to trade away any percentage of people’s rights have lost any moral authority to speak on behalf of said class of people.

That “percentage” of those who lose out is ultimately a random process. In states like California, no one would know whose access was traded away until after the law passed.

veto.jpgIn Ohio, as a direct result of the ’96 legislation, we now have a predictable “underclass’ of those whose rights have been traded away and barring constitutional challenge or retroactive legislation, those locked behind vetos, (that newly created vetoed class,) will likely be screwed from here on in.

Deform efforts have consequences. They have a cost to real people, real families, and our real lives.

That’s why they must be opposed, “early and often”. (to twist the cynical phrase just a bit)

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