In Texas, this story is all too typical. A child placed in foster care at birth is adopted and embarks on a journey to adulthood with a lingering question — who are my birth parents?
Many adults in this position can expect to jump through hoops to obtain their original birth certificates, often without success. Texas law seals a child’s original birth certificate when the child is adopted and the adoptive parents are issued a new birth certificate listing them as the child’s parents.
As adults, the adoptees then must ask for access to their original birth certificate in a court in the county that granted the adoption and demonstrate to a judge that they have a need to know this information. Failing that, adult adoptees often suffer in silence or pursue expensive DNA tests and investigations when easy access to their original birth records would answer what might well be the most important question of their lives.
House Bill 1386 and its identical counterpart, SB 1877, would allow adoptees who are at least 18 and were born in Texas to obtain their original birth certificates from the state without a court order, removing a major hurdle that had been on the books in Texas since 1957.
The national trend toward sealing adoption records began in the 1930s and gained momentum with an increase in out-of-wedlock wartime births. By the 1970s, adoptees began advocating for access to their birth certificates and some states created programs that would allow a court-appointed middleman to appoint someone to confidentially search for birth parents and, if they agreed, arrange contact with adoptees.
In Texas, adoption rights advocates for years have pushed for an easier process for adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates. State lawmakers resisted and said secrecy protected the privacy of birth parents and prevented adoptive parents from confronting birth mothers. The interests of adopted children, who are now adults, clashed with the law.
A birth certificate is more than a piece of paper; it also is a window into a person’s heritage, race and ethnicity and can be useful in establishing family medical history. One adoptee, who wrote to lawmakers in support of the bill, put it this way: “Though family reunification is not the main purpose or goal of the adoptee rights bill, it is not right that legal, tax-paying, voting ADULTS are treated differently under the law just because they were adopted as children. And if there is the possibility of finding members of their biological families, the state of Texas should not hinder that.”
Not all family histories will be pleasant, but the state shouldn’t get in the way of adults making the decision to learn more about their families. In recent years, lawmakers in several states have made birth certificates more accessible. Texas should do the same this session.