The Fourth of July is upon us, marking a great moment in history as it signifies our official independence as a nation. All across America the red, white and blue will be waving. Families will gather around to enjoy the simple pleasures of a backyard barbecue as they celebrate their pride in being an American.
The ideology of freedom is a core value in America. It is the crux of our patriotic songs, the thirteen stripes on our national flag represent the independence of the original colonies, and it is the cornerstone of our Constitution.
When the suffragettes fought for the right to vote they were seeking the freedom that comes when your humanity is considered equal to the humanity of others. When members of the LGBT community and their allies fought for the right to have their union given the credence of marriage, they did so in part based on the fundamental truth that love is a universal concept which cannot and should not be inhibited by any bigotry that holds the love of some as unequal to the love of others.
Freedom was the basis for the great dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who so aptly proclaimed that if America is to be a great nation, all of God’s children must be able to meaningfully sing the patriotic hymns which pronounce that freedom should ring from every mountainside in this land where liberty is held so dear.
There are those of us who know only fractured freedom, which negates the very idea that Independence Day is meant to convey. We may not know all that freedom has to offer because of our gender, or the color of our skin, or because of who we love.
And some of us, because of the circumstances of our birth, know freedom related to our identity and heritage only as an idea instead of a lived experience. This is true for countless adopted persons in the United States who are denied access to the very document that attests to our humanity; our birth certificate.
When a person is adopted, their original birth certificate becomes sealed and a new birth certificate is issued. This amended birth certificate lists the adoptive parents as birth parents and it leaves off details that are typically included on a long form birth certificate. In some places, where the adopted person was actually born can even be replaced with another location, as though the place where one entered the world is an insignificant detail that can easily be exchanged.
The meaning of a birth certificate is both practical and personal. Practically, it is an identifying document. We use it to get driver’s licenses and passports. We use it to gain access to privileges and resources.
We use it to confirm identity, and identity is both practical and very personal.
A birth certificate is ultimately an attestation to the profound moment when we entered this world. It attaches us, in writing, to a very important family; whether we are raised by that family or not. A biological family is a factual aspect of any person’s identity. It is where we gain biological elements such as our race and ethnicity. It is where we gain our medical history, something we can all agree is vital information.
Our family of birth contributes to our nuances, strengths, and flaws. These personality characteristics can also be aspects we gain from our family of experience, those who raise us and whom we know and love as family regardless of blood ties.
Both then are quintessentially important to every personhood; the meaning of one family does not and should not replace the other. And knowledge of all parts of who we are should be a basic right.
The fact that we continue to deny this knowledge to adopted persons by concealing their actual birth certificates in most US states is a blatant human rights violation, and it contradicts the very principle of freedom we claim as so essential to the core of what it is to be in America.
This denial is also contrary to the realities of the adoption experience today. Most families who live adoption today do so in the spirit of openness, with biological and adoptive families getting to know each other and staying in touch over time out of their shared love for their child. Other people are connecting with extended family every day through social media technologies and advancements in DNA science.
The research base, and more importantly the voices of those who live adoption, are loud and clear that access to information, openness and honesty are necessary.
A birth certificate is a vital document; vital is a word that is synonymous with ‘essential’, ‘fundamental’ and ‘necessary’. But for those of us who were adopted after our birth, this document is conceived by some as inconsequential and replaceable.
The battle for civil and human rights is, in many regards, universal regardless of the issue at hand. This advocacy is uniquely personal yet inextricably uniform. Because whenever rights are being abrogated the underlying struggle is the same. It is a struggle to gain access to the tangible privileges that are denied when a person is discriminated against. But it is more intensely a struggle for the desire to be valued as human; the intangible yearning to be regarded as equal to all other persons regardless of the nuances that make us diverse within our shared humanity.
Within this framework of universality, and with deep respect for the distinctiveness of each unique human rights cause, our own dreams for the community that is called ‘adopted’ are inspired by Dr. King’s powerful declaration.
Our dream is for all adopted persons to gain access to the very information that affirms their humanity. In this dream we see our brothers and sisters in adoption made whole again not simply because of a piece of paper that proclaims their humanity, but moreover because they have the unique and intense opportunity to use this piece of paper to delve into rich exploration and potentially know all elements of their identity.
This document holds the promise of transformation that goes well beyond the simple right to gain access to it; yet it is in being given this simple right that revolutionizes how we hold ourselves as ‘adopted’ and how the society we live in regards us.
On the tenth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt stated the following:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”
The world of the adopted person can be complex. But for many of us, our desire to know our biological origins is not reflective of the love and affinity we have for our family of experience. The mom’s and dad’s who raise us are the people we run to in childhood in tears over a bad dream or joy when we make the basketball team. Our mom’s and dad’s are the people we complain about for their meddling ways and they are the people we call when we need the advice of someone who has been there and done that many times over. We are part of a family that came together differently, but is family just the same. We are people, just like anyone else, and we seek access to the document that gives us the dignity of being valued as a person. And then, our unique dream of freedom will be realized. And then we will be able to fully celebrate Independence Day.
It’s as simple as that.