The New York legislature secured history on an extra day of the legislative session by reversing more than eight decades of discrimination against New York adopted people. With the bill moving through three committees on the final two days of an extended session, the Assembly Members voted 126-2 to pass S3419/A5494 and forward it to Governor Andrew Cuomo for signature and final enactment. If you have not been following this, the soon-to-be enacted law will:
- restore the right of all adult adoptees to request and obtain a certified copy of the “original long form line by line, vault copy birth certificate,” otherwise known as the OBC, with no restrictions other than the adoptee is at least 18 years of age at the time of the request;
- if the adoptee is deceased, allow direct line descendants or a lawful representative of the adoptee to request and obtain the OBC;
- address issues related to people born outside of New York but whose adoptions were finalized by a New York state court. If a copy of the OBC from the other jurisdiction is not available from a New York registrar, then information that would have appeared on the OBC must be provided by the adoption agency;
- address original birth certificates on file with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, an extremely important provision because New York City currently possesses many pre-adoption birth certificates;
- address certain OBCs that may also be held by registrars in Albany, Buffalo, and Yonkers;
- be effective January 15, 2020.
We owe tremendous thanks to all of you who responded strongly and passionately with every request we made to take action. Whether you emailed your representatives, called an Assembly Member or Senator to drive an important point home, or came to Albany with us to lobby personally for our right to our own original birth certificates, it worked. It took immense effort to harness our power and it took months to make all of these parts work, whether you are a New York adoptee, an adoptee in another state, an intercountry adoptee, a birth/first parent, an adoptive parent, or one of our many allies who know exactly what it means to advocate. THANK YOU!
Much of the work here has been done by the core partners of the coalition, including Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy of Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York, Gregory D. Luce of Adoptee Rights Law Center, and Marley Greiner of Bastard Nation. Early on Tim Monti-Wohlpart helped with the American Adoption Congress, as did Barbara Fuller, also with the AAC. Shawna Hodgson, a Texan with Equality4Adoptees but now at least an honorary New Yorker, was critical in discussing strategic actions and keeping us sane.
Christopher Philippo, a New York adoptee, was with us often in Albany and was literally the resident historian and policy guru, producing two incredibly useful books on the legislative history of this this issue in New York. And throughout it all, our spokesperson, Annette O’Connell—who had no vote in the coalition but carried all of us through the highs and lows over the course of an 18-month campaign—was critical in making this happen. We owe huge thanks to Annette for sacrificing her time and bringing truth to power to Albany, sometimes speaking that truth with her son Brendan at her side.
This also would not have happened without the superb leadership of Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblyman David Weprin, the bills’ primary sponsors who have been engaged in this fight for more than a decade. In particular Assemblyman Weprin shepherded the bill through the Assembly to overcome longstanding opposition from powerful Assembly members.
We also owe thank to the leadership of Governor Andrew Cuomo and top aides in his administration. They were instrumental in listening to us, understanding the issue, and working within the Governor’s office and with the many supportive New York legislators to hammer equality home. Finally, we have to acknowledge all those who came before us and fought for decades, and continued to work this session, to make equality happen.
New York will, upon enactment of S3419/A5494, become the tenth state to restore a right all adoptees had decades ago: the right to request and obtain your own vital record, without discriminatory conditions and restrictions. Let’s hope more states follow New York’s lead and that advocates understand the power genuine coalition brings, with organizations working together while simultaneously concentrating on the individual strengths they have to assure equality for adoptees is the only solution.