Decades-long fight to gain adoptee rights is close to victory

Jun 25, 2019

Adoptee rights advocates are applauding state lawmakers for passing legislation that grants adoptees access to their original birth certificates. However, the governor vetoed an earlier version of the bill and has yet to sign this one.

Passage of the Adoptee Bill of Rights is good news for Brad Cupples of Victor, an adoptee who has been lobbying for this for decades. He said, until now, adoptees would have to go through a judicial proceeding to gain access to the document and the important information it contains.

"The child's heritage, their origin, the names of their birth parents," Cupples said, "and the only way to get that document up until now has been by going to court and getting a judge to unseal the records."

The Assembly passes the Adoptee Bill of Rights weeks after it overwhelmingly passed in the Senate.
Credit nyadopteerights.org

Cupples said the original birth certificate contains information that can help people find family and medical histories, which becomes increasingly important when an adoptee becomes a parent.

"You take your child to the doctor and the doctor asks, any history of kidney problems, heart disease, liver problems, cancer, or a variety of other hereditary illnesses, and you have to sit there and say, 'I don't know,'" he said.

Cupples met his birth mother 20 years ago and finally got answers to the many questions he has had all his life. He said that was an extremely powerful, life-changing moment that provided family history questions.

Jeff Hancock of Avon is with the Unsealed Initiative, a group that has been lobbying for passage of the bill for several years. Current law dates back to the 1930s. He said passage means adoptees will finally see an official document with their name on it.

"This is our birth name and this is information that we haven't been privy to," Hancock said. "Even though some of us search and find our family and we get a reunion with our birth parents or birth siblings and aunts and uncles, we still lack that piece of paper that's identifying as who we are, who we were born as."

Hancock said he joined the Unsealed Initiative soon after finding out in 2007 he was adopted.

He was trying to get a passport and needed an original birth certificate, which his adoptive mother did not have. Hancock says his father, who died in 1990, never told him he was adopted and his adoptive mother finally told Hancock, then in his 40s.

Opponents cite concerns over birth parents' right to privacy. The bill still needs approval from the governor. He vetoed a similar bill two years ago that adoptee rights groups argued was too restrictive.