One year ago today, on June 17, 2016, Michigan 3rd Circuit Court Judge Christopher Dingell signed a court order requiring the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to release a copy of my original birth certificate. This decision came more than 27 years after I had found my birth family and knew the names of all my biological kin.
This is what I wrote on June 17, 2016, the day a court order Michigan to give me my original birth certificate: “That’s me on the phone this morning with the Michigan 3rd Circuit Court making the case why an original birth certificate of an adoptee is not a top secret document that should be held under lock and key by a paternalistic state that treats a class of individuals as lesser citizens simply because they were born illegitimately as adoptees. The judge agreed with my points and the facts of the case. Booyah!”
Judge Dingell agreed with facts of my case. Great. We all like to win and see justice prevail.
However, just getting the trial proved almost as frustrating as getting any record from the fanatically-unhelpful MDHHS. (This is the same department that covered up its failings in the Flint lead and water scandal.)
I had to make repeated calls on a weekly basis to get on the court docket. A court date was cancelled without notification or apology.
When the court date came, by phone, the judge’s line of questioning took a bizarre twist, when his questions showed he had more interest in whether my birth father had some abstract legal standing in the matter, not the immorality and openly discriminatory nature of a law that promoted unequal treatment or the denial of a record that should have been given to me nearly three decades earlier, by law.
In fact, the judge took little personal interest in my story at all. What’s more, his out-of-nowhere questions about my birth father had no bearing on my request, as my birth father was dead and more importantly had no legal standing at all in my case. I had already provided the state legal documents in 1989 that should have forced the state to surrender my birth certificate along with other birth records I received.
I will not even begin to discuss the larger historic issue of how paternity issues have historically harmed birth mothers and illegitimate infants throughout history, in often lethal ways, and how the judge’s questions seemed oblivious of historic reality.
The court victory, though satisfying, was another frustrating and also insulting experience that typifies the systemic and discriminatory practices in most U.S. states against U.S. adoptees seeking their equal rights and documents that are theirs by birthright.
No court case should ever had happened, according to at least one approved written statement the MDHHS shared with me after the hearing–see the state’s explanation to question 19 on this summary of the state’s replies to my emailed questions. No official involved in deciding my request for my birth certificate would speak to me on the record, despite repeated attempts to secure interviews with those handling my case.
I wrote a detailed account of my experience on my website, revealing how the state almost certainly broke state law denying my original birth record and enlisted nearly 20 state officials to keep me from having my birth record without any policy rationale or basic human decency. I also alerted more than 20 media outlets about the state’s abuse of power and likely violation of law after I won the court ruling. Only one reporter contacted me, and the newspaper did not write a story.
In the end, the story of an adoptee is essentially the experience of being a bastard–and this came as no shock to me. It is the experience that many adoptees live navigating secretive public health agencies and the courts for many decades of our lives.
I describe my journey culminating in my court victory in my forthcoming book on my experience seeking justice as a U.S. adoptee. Today, only nine states allow adult U.S. adoptees to access their birth records and, essentially, be treated equally under the law like other Americans in seeking their identity and the most essential identity document humans will own.