Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Separate Is Not Equal

May 17, 2009 will mark the 55th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, the landmark civil rights decision of the Supreme Court that yanked the thread that eventually unraveled the legal basis of institutional racial segregation in the United States. In Brown v Board of Ed. the court distilled the arguments down to one simple principle: SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.

I just watched a video of SF Mayor Gavin Newsom, speaking at the Commonwealth Club, remarking about Brown v Board of Ed. and his support of gay marriage. He noted the upcoming anniversary of the decision and predicted that we will hear many speeches celebrating the principle that separate is not equal, by politicians who will then turn around and side step questions about marriage equity by talking about civil unions, a separate procedure designed for gays and lesbians. But as Mayor Newsom points out, SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.

Adult adoptees in California have experienced this type of inequality from the moment their adoptions were finalized and their records of birth, their original birth certificates, were sealed. As adult citizens, they are treated differently than every other citizen. They must go through separate processes to gain access to what every other citizen takes for granted and in the majority of instances the outcomes of their requests will be different than every other citizen because they will be denied. And this is unjust because SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.

Most of the adult adoptees I know who are working or who have worked to change the state laws sealing records will not benefit directly from their work, for the simple reason that most of them have successfully searched and made contact with their families of origin outside the law. This includes adult adoptees on the board of C.A.R.E., the sponsoring organization for California's AB 372. This speaks to the generosity of spirit of those who choose to devote themselves to the issue, and also speaks to how ineffectual these laws are. To discover our identities requires that we, otherwise law-abiding citizens, become outlaws.

Personally, I won't gain anything (as far as I know) from obtaining my original birth certificate from the state of California. My first mother's name was contained in a document in the possession of my adoptive parents. Even so, the state of California denies me access to a document containing information I already possess. Just who is the law protecting here?

This disconnect between legality and reality breeds a type of contempt and cynicism towards the law that feeds the rage some adoptees pour into their phone calls, letters and emails to legislators.

It all boils down to equal treatment. The issue of whether adult adoptees should be able to access their records of birth is not about their relationships with their adoptive families or their families of origin. Its about their relationship with the state of California, which currently treats them as separate, but equal. I am here to tell you this: SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.

And this is why the laws that deny adult adoptees equality of access to their records of birth must be overturned in California. Not because some medical or child welfare specialists recommend it. Not because we feel the emotional pull of reunion narratives. We must recognize the principle of Brown v Board of Ed., the same principle that is driving the efforts to overturn Propositon 8, the principle that SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL, because it affirms the basic justice underlying all of our laws. We must make governance by law consistent with the realities and aspirations of its citizens, and in equal measure. Justice benefits everyone equally, just laws benefit everyone equally.

Now, we will be told that it's not that simple. But just as the US Supreme Court did in Brown v Board of Ed. , and just as Mayor Newsom did by decreeing gay marriage legal in San Francisco, we, as adult adoptees, must stand up and tell the legislators, in one voice, the simple truth: SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL.

WRITE YOUR CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY MEMBER AND THE MEMBERS OF THE ASSEMBLY JUDICIARY COMMITTEE TODAY! To find out who your Assembly member is, click HERE. Contact information for the Assembly Judiciary Committee is HERE.

Blees you, Justice Marshall!!


Blogger joy said...

I love it!

Yes, that was one of the slogans we used last year. I think it really resonates with law makers.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Gershom Kaligawa said...

omg great post!!!

Very true :)

1:55 PM  
Blogger Joan M Wheeler, born as, Doris M Sippel said...

Very true. Separate is not equal.

Here's another point to think about: The reason I am for CERTIFIED copies of our true birth certificates is because I want the government to put it's stamp on my true birth certificate. The government must recognize my birth by a raised stamp and a signature that certifies the truth of my actual birth. I want my amended birth certificate to be declared null and void, and, I want it replaced by a certified state stamped certificate of adoption because that is how I became known with the legal name I have now, and with the second set of parents who raised me.

Reformers: continue to fight for your rights in your states, but remember that we also were issued a document, certified by the state, that says we were born to the parents named on that record of false birth.

Joan M Wheeler,
born as,
Doris M Sippel

5:07 PM  
Blogger Marley Greiner said...

I have a certified copy of my obc and adoption degree. I ordered them from the county not the state. I re-ordered them from the state years later and only got copies. Each state is different. I know a few other people who have certified copies from Ohio as well.

I don't believe that the state should issue birth certificates for anybody. It's just another way for the government to track you down and do whatever it wants to you, but as long as the government insists on doing it, we should have the real ones.

9:47 PM  
Blogger BB Church said...

Marls, you should be receiving a visit from Homeland Security and the migras shortly... Due to 9/11, general ID theft anxiety, and the RealID Act, no state is going to issue two differing certified birth certificates to one individual.

I've never been a fan of amending birth certificates as a means of documenting the transfer of parental rights through adoption, but on the other hand all parents have leeway in what information they place on their child's birth certificate. I mean, if a woman is married her husband is the putative father of her children whether he was responsible for the child's conception or not... At any rate, I would be happy as long as I was provided a document trail.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Joan, as usual. It's time to rewrite the wrongs of the past and put stamps of approval on the truths of our births.

As for AB 372- I will NEVER jump onto the "we promise it will be a clean bill if you just stay quiet and go along for the ride" bandwagon.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Joan M Wheeler, born as, Doris M Sippel said...

Hi Anonymous. Thanks for your support. Even if I don't know who you are!

10:41 PM  

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