Will the ACLU Defend Adoptee Civil Rights?
Marley Greiner, Exe. Chair of Bastard Nation sent the following letter to Matthew Briggs at ACLU-National in February 1998, after she attempted several times to speak to a national representative by phone. A few days later, she spoke briefly to then ACLU president Nadine Stroessen during a reception for her at the Ohio State University. Ms. Strossen evinced surprise at the strange reasoning of ACLU’s Sheehan’ and Klunder, and laughed at their idea that sealed records fell under natural law.
February 5, 1998
American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street
New York City, NY 10004-2400
Dear Mr. Briggs:
I write today to express my concern over the activities of Doug Klunder and Jerry Sheehan of the Washington State ACLU (ACLU-W) regarding their chapter’s opposition to open adoption records legislation in Washington (SB6496/HB2810) which would give adults adopted in that state access to their original birth certificates upon request at the age of majority.
On February 2, 1998 Mr. Klunder emailed members of the legislature stating the ACLU-W’s opposition to this proposal. Klunder wrote that opposition was based in large part on “birth mother confidentiality” i.e., the right to privacy, despite the fact that the February 11, 1997 Doe v Sundquist decision (197 FED App., 0051) which challenged unsuccessfully Tennessee legislation that gave adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates, clearly states that the right to privacy does not extend to the disclosure of birth information to the adopted person. Mr. Klunder did not indicate that the plaintiffs lost the case and that the US Supreme Court recently let the ruling stand without comment.
Dismissing Doe v Sundquist, Klunder’s associate Jerry Sheehan, told members of Washington State Open ’98, the originators of the current proposal, that while birthparents may not have a legal right to confidentiality, (as they clearly do under Sundquist) they have a “natural” right to demand that the original birth certificate be withheld from the adult adoptee. Mr. Sheehan thus suggests that the Washington State Legislature would do well to ignore case law which upholds adoptee rights to birth certificate access.
The Sundquist argument aside, Klunder and Sheehan seemingly possess an abysmal knowledge of adoption practice and law; thus discrediting their reliability as experts in the issue of open records. The birth certificates of relinquished children, for instance, are sealed only at the time of adoption–not at the time of relinquishment; therefore the original birth certificates of persons who were relinquished but never adopted are part of the public record and available to the relinquished person upon request. Social workers and adoption agencies are in no legal position to promise confidentiality to either birth parents or adoptive parents, and there are no confidentiality clauses in either relinquishment papers or adoption decrees. Many birth parents, in fact, were and are routinely lied to by “adoption professionals” regarding adoption records. Many birth parents are, in fact, told by agencies that when the relinquished child reaches the age of majority that birth parents are able to access records and/or that the relinquished child, as an adult, is given full access to his or her adoption file. This is not true.
Klunder’s further ignorance of adoption law, practice, and current history is apparent in his claim that the State of Washington opened its adoption records in 1990–which it most certainly did not.
Klunder also stated in his letter to the Washington Legislature that it was the ACLU’s belief that open records would cause the rate of abortion to rise. Klunder and Sheehan, in a private conversation with Washington State Open ’98 members, however, admitted that they indeed had no proof that open records cause abortions to rise. The abortion argument, in fact, is trotted out regularly by anti-choice and anti-open records organizations such as The Christian Coalition, The Family Research Council, The American Center for Law and Justice, The Eagle Forum, Right to Life, and The American Life League–organizations against which the ACLU has successfully defended reproductive rights for over two decades. It is quite disappointing to see the ACLU quoting its opponents’ lies. Statistics compiled by the Alan Guttmacher Institute and the National Center for Court Statistics–studies which Klunder and Sheehan should be able to access quite easily if they so desired–clearly show that abortion rates in states and countries were open records stand are substantially lower than surrounding areas–and that adoption rates are substantiality higher.
Finally, I believe that ACLU-WA’s opposition to open records may be contrary to national ACLU policy regarding the right of adopted persons to their own birth certificates. In 1987, the Oakland County, MI chapter of the ACLU adopted a statement of support for open adoption records On April 21, 1987 the Southwest Florida Chapter of the ACLU, using the Michigan statement as a model, adopted The Rights of Adult Adopted Person Policy Statement which reads in part:
….The ACLU believes that so long as state and/or local governments choose to maintain birth records such records must be maintained and accessible without discrimination by virtue of adopted or non-adopted status.
Toward this end, the ACLU believes that laws information about adoptees and/or their birthparents and laws allowing access to such information only upon consent of registration, or laws allowing access to such information only upon court order, deny adopted persons their birth parents and their relatives the equal protection of that laws and constitutes unwarranted interference by the government with the right of people to chose whether to associate.
The Southwest Florida Chapter of the ACLU recommends that this policy be adopted by the ACLU of Florida and the ACLU of Florida in turn recommend adoption of this policy by the National ACLU.
Bastard Nation has attempted to learn just what ACLU policy is on open adoption records. The policy statement from the Southwest Florida chapter indicates that its statement was most likely forwarded to the national office for endorsement. Calls to the national office over the last few days have yielded no further information . The telephone attendant(s) has no knowledge of whom to transfer such requests, callers are transferred to your office, and phone messages have not been returned.
I am extremely concerned that Misters Klunder and Sheehan have knowingly disseminated incomplete and/or false information to the Washington Legislature regarding open adoption records. I therefore request the following:
- An investigation into the activities of Doug Klunder and Jerry Sheehan regarding the dissemination of incomplete and/or false information to the Washington State Legislature.
- Acknowledgment from the ACLU that Doe v Sundquist clearly states that adopted adults have the right to their original birth certificates;
- A withdrawal of unsubstantiated and unprovable allegations that open adoption records cause abortion;
- A copy of the national ACLU policy statement on the right of adopted persons to their original birth certificates, and if no such policy exists, an explanation of why it does not exist ;
- The name of an ACLU staff member in the national office with whom we can contact regarding open adoption records.
- A copy of the national ACLU regulations, and/or patterns of administration, and/or guidelines, etc. for local and state chapters in regard to interpretation of policy or creation of policy on a case-by-case basis.
I further request that if the national ACLU has a policy that favors the right of adopted adults to access their original birth certificates, that this policy be forwarded at once to the ACLU-W office.
Requests 4 and 5 can be sent to me via e-mail (email@example.com) or by fax (614-261-6296). I would appreciate a response by Friday, February 6, 1998.
Bastard Nation is the only adoptee rights organization in the country whose only focus is the opening of birth records for all adult adoptees at the age of majority. We have no desire to engage the ACLU in an argument over open adoption records. We in fact, would be very happy to work with you in the formation of ACLU policy regarding open records, if you do not yet have one. Many of our members are longtime ACLU members and supporters who have taken for granted that the ACLU which has for so long defended the concept of equal protection under the law, would include adopted persons under this protection. It is inconceivable that the ACLU would consider the 6,000,000 adopted persons in the US who are denied access to their birth records simply by virtue of their adoptive status as unworthy of Constitutional coverage. The right to one’s original birth certificate is a civil right that is denied us.
The Executive Committee of Bastard Nation is more than pleased to discuss Washington open records–and open records issues at large–with representatives of the national ACLU. I can be reached days and evenings at 614-261-6296
Marley Elizabeth Greiner
Executive Chair Bastard Nation
Acting Chair, BN Great Lakes Region
Chair, Ohio BN/MOB
cc: Executive Committee, Bastard Nation
att: Letter to Doug Klunder 2/3/98