Who am I? U.S. adoptees finally winning birth certificate rights

MILFORD Conn. Mon Jun 16, 2014 9:52am EDT

MILFORD Conn. (Reuters) - Marco Vasi was adopted nearly 28 years ago and as an only child is still very close to the Portland, Connecticut, parents who raised him.

But that hasn't stopped the 27-year-old nursing school student from wondering every time he looks in the mirror where he got those piercing blue eyes, dark brown hair and stocky athletic build.

Like millions of adoptees in the United States, Vasi has no legal access to his original birth certificate, and physical characteristics are just some of the questions about his roots that he cannot answer.

But that will change in July 2015 under a law signed last week by Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy that supporters hope will help spur changes nationwide.

About 24,000 adults adopted in Connecticut who were born after October 1983 – when birth parents' surrendering papers started including language that their offspring may someday contact them - will gain access to their birth certificates upon turning 18.

All Vasi was told by the adoption agency that placed him in 1987 is that his birth parents were in high school when he was born, and that he is of French ancestry.

"Being trained in the medical field I realize how vital it is to know my medical background," said Vasi. "But it's much more than that. There is always a feeling something is missing, creating a major gap in my identity."

Beyond that, Vasi added “this is one of the most unknown civil rights issues in our country. Sealing our birth records denies answers to the most basic human questions – who am I and where did I come from?”

SOCIAL EXPERIMENT

Connecticut’s move to open birth records followed decades of lobbying and came a month after New Jersey took similar steps.

Some 42 of the 50 U.S. states still keep birth records tightly sealed under measures that started as early as the 1930s and ran as late as the mid-70s. They stemmed from what opponents say was a well-intentioned "but failed social experiment" to protect unmarried women from ridicule for sexual activity, and adoptees from the shame of being born out of wedlock.

Without birth certificates, both adoptees and birth parents are forced to turn detective, or use private investigators, to piece together small bits of non-identifying information with the little data in adoption papers.

Such searches can take days or decades, and many adoptees never find their birth parents.

"Those who approved these laws didn't think about what would happen when adopted children became adults. (They also) lied to birth mothers that they would forget their offspring. These are archaic laws that do not fit our society's current social mores," said Connecticut State Rep. David Alexander, an adoptee who helped draft language for the new law.

Alexander believes Connecticut is among a number of states “on the cutting edge of a major social reform movement” that will result in access to birth records for every adult adoptee in the nation, regardless of when they were born.

New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island are currently among a handful of states where anyone over the age of 18 who has been adopted can get hold of their birth certificates.

While opponents say the new laws infringe on the rights of birth parents who expected privacy when placing a child for adoption, the American Adoption Congress and other advocates say about 95 percent of birth parents want reunions too.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch noted that even at age 58 he still can't get his original birth certificate, despite the new law, because he was adopted before 1983.

“Here I am, mayor of 150,000 people, and I have no legal access to my birth certificate,” said Finch.

Karen Caffrey, a 54-year-old adoptee, psycho-therapist and president of the grassroots group Access Connecticut, said it has been tough getting anything approved.

“Of course the new law isn't good enough,” said Caffrey, who has been in touch for 30 years with her birth parents, who married and gave her up for adoption as teenagers in 1959.

"We will not be satisfied until we have full open access for all adult adoptees, which I expect to happen everywhere in the country within the next decade.”

(Reporting By Richard Weizel; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Chris Reese)

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