Sunday, May 11, 2008

Brannigan: Sealed adoption records all about the fear of bastardy...

Originally I intended to write a simple rebuttal to Mr. Brannigan’s May 10th editorial in the Times of Trenton, New Jersey, but I reconsidered and am posting the entire piece, in italics, with comments instead. Enjoy!

Privacy of adoption law
Saturday, May 10, 2008

"I write to point out misstatements and misrepresentations that are being made by individuals and groups who are trying to eliminate an important privacy for birth mothers -- a privacy that has been protected by law for decades. "

Presumably all individual citizens have the same right to privacy. Brannigan’s usage of the term, “a privacy”, implies that mothers whose relinquished children are subsequently adopted can claim a higher degree of privacy than everyone else, a special privacy right.

“Those who want to eliminate a birth parent's privacy claim that New Jersey's adoption law protects only the adopted child. That claim is wrong.”

I have no idea who Brannigan is writing about here or what specific claims he’s attempting to address.

“New Jersey's adoption law protects all of the parties: the child, the natural parents and the adopting parents.”

New Jersey’s laws regarding adoption records patronizes everyone involved.

“The Catholic Church has provided adoption services in New Jersey for well over a century. The New Jersey Catholic Conference has long supported mutual consent reunions and the sharing of health information between adoptees and birth parents. Indeed, Catholic Charity agencies provide adoptees with information about their social background and health histories even in instances when they are unable to facilitate a reunion.”

In other words, the Catholic Church has a long history of intervening in the private lives and relationships of New Jersey adult adoptees (who may or may not be Catholic themselves) and wants to continue to do so far into the future.

“The New Jersey Superior Court, in Mills vs. Atlantic City Department of Vital Statistics (1977), reviewed at length the interests that are involved in placing adoption records under seal. Judge Philip Gruccio noted that the purpose of the Adoption Act is to protect the child placed for adoption, the adopting parents and the natural or birth parents. Analyzing each of their respective interests, Judge Gruccio first addressed those of the natural parents and the adoptive parents:

"The assurance of secrecy regarding the identity of the natural parents enables them to place the child for adoption with a reputable agency, with the knowledge that their actions and motivations will not become public knowledge. Assured of this privacy by the State, the natural parents are free to move on and attempt to rebuild their lives after what must be a traumatic and emotionally tormenting episode in their lives.

"The adopting parents also have an interest in having the birth records placed under seal. They have taken into their home a child whom they will regard as their own and whom they will love and raise as an integral part of their family unit. It is important to these adopting parents that they may raise this child without fear of interference from the natural parents and without fear that the birth status of the illegitimate child will be revealed or used as a means of harming the child or themselves. The State has an active interest in protecting and nurturing the growing family relationship it has statutorily created."

Certainly, the court recognized that the state has an obligation to protect the interests of all three parties. Judge Gruccio wrote, "The statute requiring that the records be sealed clearly serves the interest of all three parties in the adoptive triangle: adoptive parents, natural parents and the child."

Note that nowhere in this commentary are the needs, rights or interests of adult adoptees mentioned. Indeed, Brannigan never once refers to adoptees as adults or citizens, instead he consistently calls adoptees children. All this “nurturance” and “protection” becomes irrelevant once an adoptee is an adult. The decision Brannigan quotes has no bearing on the issue of the restoration of the rights of adult adoptees to access their own birth records. A lot of legal water has flowed under the bridge since Judge Gruccio’s decision thirty-five years ago, specifically in Tennessee and Oregon, both of which sliced and diced the rationale that preventing adults from accessing their own birth records threatens adoption. The individual judges in Tennessee and Oregon and panels of appeal judges weighed Gruccio’s central thesis and replied, “So what?” Restoring the right of adult adoptees to access their birth records did not nullify or otherwise damage past or current adoptions.

“We must remember that thousands of birth mothers placed their children for adoption through the New Jersey courts in reliance on that statutory assurance of privacy that is so clearly articulated by Judge Gruccio.”

The central theme running through Gruccio’s ruling is the unapologetic fear and hatred of bastardy redeemed by the act of relinquishment and adoption. What Brannigan glosses over is the fact that his “statutory assurance” was in fact a legal obligation imposed on everyone involved. At least Brannigan appears to know better than to call the statutes a promise outright, but “assurance” sound close enough. Let’s get this straight, statutes cannot promise, and the assurances they convey are temporal, not eternal. Statutes can affirm a right, but that right actually predates the statute. Parents do not have a right to remain anonymous to their offspring.

“The New Jersey Catholic Conference is working with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, New Jersey Right to Life, the New Jersey State Bar Association and the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry to support a simple and fair approach to this very sensitive issue.”

Talk about an unholy alliance… Why not invite the B’Nai Brith and the Ku Klux Klan? It goes without saying that none of these august institutions represent the interests of adult adoptees. Who are they, really, to presume to fairness on the issue of adoption records. Brannigan admits that the Catholic Church has a deep vested interest as an adoption practitioner, in matters of adoption the state Bar Associations are led around by the nose by their Family Law sections, which in turn are led by adoption attorneys. The pro and anti abortion professional classes would love to coopt adoption to further their own agendas. That leaves the Lutherans, who perhaps are simply attracted by the bland appeal that mutual consent registries have for those not compelled to actual have use of them.

“Our coalition supports sensible and compassionate legislation that would take into consideration the interests of all parties.”

Defined by who? Shouldn’t the interested parties negotiate their own interests? Oh, I forgot, to Brannigan we are all children, and you can’t negotiate with children, except perhaps with a lollipop in one hand and a sweaty steering wheel in the other…

“The foundation of such a system is an effective mutual consent registry established by the state to provide adoptees with access to their birth parents' medical history and to link birth parents and adult adopted persons when the parties have requested and consented to such a reunion. This mutual consent registry system would use qualified individuals and agencies to function as intermediaries to locate adopted persons and birth parents, to certify contacts and to assess those interested in reunification. In the case in which a birth parent is unwilling to reunite, the intermediary would obtain family and medical history for the adoptee.”

What Brannigan means is that adult adoptees and first parents are incompetent to handle their own relationships and must be required to use “qualified” individuals and agencies to do what other people manage with no outside help or interference. These qualified bureaucrats would have the power to “assess” citizens (and presumably find them wanting) and “certify” contacts. This sounds so appealing that I bet everybody will want one, a qualified individual to certify their interrelationships. “Sorry, I can’t speak with you, my qualified individual won’t certify you! I do want my CD’s back, could you drop them off with my intermediary? Ciao! Love you, or I would if my qualified individual would certify you…”

“It is time for those trying to end the privacy of birth mothers to tell the truth: New Jersey's adoption law protects all three parties -- adoptees, natural parents and adopting parents.”

It’s time for Brannigan and the other members of the cabal of adoption secrecy to butt out of our lives. The adult adopted citizens of New Jersey do not need his brand of “qualified” people, or fee-based mandatory reunion schemes. We no longer need a protection racket based on our bastardy. Just gives us OUR damn records.

“Patrick R. Brannigan is executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, which represents the Archdiocese of Newark, Diocese of Camden, Diocese of Metuchen, Diocese of Paterson, Diocese of Trenton, Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic and Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Diocese.”