Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why I Don't Support Compromise Legislation but Won't Fight About it Either

Ahhh.  The art of demonstration poster making.
Bills that seek to restore original birth certificate access to adoptees are popping up all over the country.  These bills come in two general forms; "increased access" (a.k.a "compromised") and "equal access."  There's a lot of debate about these two categories and whether or not the "increased access" bills should be supported by Adoptee Rights Activists.  Many heated arguments have been exchanged between activists in both camps.  This time around I'm asking: shouldn't the exchange about the validity of "increased access" and "equal access" take place between voters, policy makers, and large adoption lobbyists, rather than becoming a line drawn in the sand between activists?

It is not a question as to whether or not "increased access" bills are inadequate.  It's generally agreed that equality is what everyone wants and is ideal.  The issue is whether or not they're acceptable policy in the meantime until "equal access" can be achieved later (not forgetting that the first "increased access" law instated in the U.S. has not been revisited in 14 years).  The even bigger issue is that drawing lines in the sand over bad or inadequate policy takes attention off of the powers that be who drafted it.

Who really creates policy?
As an "equal access" activist, I have had people tell me that I have an unrealistic goal.  People have said that equal access will not happen in most States in current times and that by opposing increased access bills, we are standing in the way of the progression of this movement.  Likewise "increased access" activists are said to be standing in the way of progress by accepting bills that do not treat adoptees equally--the fundamental goal of the Adoptee Rights Movements.  To be fair to everyone, we have to step back and acknowledge who is really writing policy.  It's legislators and the large lobby groups informing them--people in power--who write these policies and inadequate bills.  Not you and me.

Should they redefine the problem our group faces?
When a legislator drafts a bill that does not treat adoptees equally, they have literally re-written the definition of the problem that adoptees are facing.  By creating access legislation with stipulations not faced by other U.S. citizens, such as needing a parent's permission to access one's birth certificate, they are saying "this isn't about equal rights, this is about adoptees vs. original parents."

I reject this "redefinition" of the problem.  People in power should not be defining the problems adoptees face.  The problem for me is plainly defined: adoptees do not access their birth records the same way all other citizens do; this is unfair; bills that treat us equally will solve the problem of inequality.  Anything less than "equal" is not "equal" and it is not "civil rights."

Original parents are not the enemy.
One of the most problematic aspects of "increased access" legislation is that, redefining the problem as being "adoptees vs. original parents" suggests that these group's interests are automatically diametrically opposed.  Is every reunion perfect?  No.  But the right to access one's birth record the same way everyone else does is not about reunion.  To view one's own equal access to a government document that belongs to them as an issue of two people butting heads is to give into societal stereotypes that view adoptee-family relationships as problematic.  Once again, rather than creating policy that focuses on the dignity of both adult adoptees and their original families, "increased access" legislation is wrought from the focus on problems people imagine adoptees and original parents to have.

We deserve more.
I don't think it is fair for policy makers to attempt to address the quest for reunion and the entitlement to equality in one fell swoop with an "increased access" bill where adoptees can access a record only after contact is made and permission granted from their original parents.  Not only do these bills not address equality but they are not fair to searching adoptees either.  Studies out of Oregon show that more than 50% of searching adoptees with birth record access were unable to locate the parent they were looking for with their original birth certificate.

Birth record access will not solve the search mystery for a large portion of adoptees.  They need, and deserve, additional consideration and services.  Lumping every adoptee need together into one does not give each adoptee need the time and attention they deserve.

It's not a game that I want to play.
We see this in every area of politics.  There's an issue, a policy maker proposes some options to address the issue, and citizens proceed to fight with each other over which option is superior.  People become so distracted with the options--the limited choices--that policy makers have handed them.  No one questions the policy maker, and a lot of bad policies get passed this way across the country.  We need more people to step back and say to the policy makers, not to each other, "I'm not playing this game.  This is a problem my group faces and these options do not address the problem."

We must define the problem we face, and be a part of creating the solution.  Solutions about adoptee needs and rights cannot really be created without adoptees at the table with policy makers.  The message we must send is clear, it is not our responsibility to take what we are offered and duke it out, activist against activist.  We should not waiver in the definition of the problem, that this is about equal treatment under the law, just to appease the misconceptions of legislators.  It is the responsibility of policy makers to listen to constituents and draft policy that adequately addresses the issue.  For an issue to be defined by the terms of those who face it is the mark of empowerment.