The story of how former Boston city councilor Tito Jackson finally found his birth mother after 45 years is a poignant one of two people searching for each other — and of near-misses.
In 2011, Rachel Twymon went to City Hall to search for the birth certificate of “Baby Boy Twymon,” born April 11, 1975, when she was 13 years old. She couldn’t get it.
“We were in the same building at the same time,” Jackson told a legislative committee recently. “I was right upstairs.”
It would take another decade and the help of social workers willing to access Jackson’s records to put the two together.
Jackson is among an unlucky cohort of adopted children born between July 17, 1974, and Jan. 1, 2008, who through a bizarre quirk in state law are locked out of access to their original birth certificates, which include the names of their biological parents, unless they get a court order — a cumbersome and costly process.
The gap is the legacy of the misguided efforts of legislators of years past who somehow thought they were protecting the privacy of parents who surrendered their children for adoption.
The law cries out to be remedied, and this year Representative Sean Garballey, an Arlington Democrat who, along with his twin brother, is an adoptee, and Senator Anne Gobi have filed legislation to bring some equity to those caught in that 34-year legal glitch.
“I may not seek to gain access to my original birth certificate,” Garballey told the Public Health Committee. “That’s not why I filed this bill. To me, this is about your identity. This should be a right.”
And, he noted, at least 15 other states have passed similar legislation, “and I haven’t heard one concern about giving all adoptees their identities back.”
Adam Pertman, a former Boston Globe journalist and now head of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, urged the committee to “follow the science” and the years of research on allowing access to birth records.
“You are not conducting an experiment here,” Pertman added. “Millions of people have already gotten a piece of their souls back.”
Of course, Massachusetts adoptees born before 1974 or after 2007 can attest to that. So too can adoptees in Alabama, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Ohio, which are among those states that have changed their laws. Kansas and Alaska have always allowed open access to original birth certificates.
“When we seal birth certificates, we send the clear signal that adoption is somehow a lesser way to form a family, because it has something to hide,” Pertman noted in his written testimony.
Birth records today are only one of many tools available for adoptees searching for their biological parents. The Internet, Google, social media, and a number of DNA-based search firms have made it easier for adoptees to track down their biological parents, or at least narrow their search. But access to original birth records is still often the crucial piece of the puzzle.
Closing the loophole is also a matter of simple equity. As Garballey noted, there shouldn’t be three classes of Massachusetts citizens — those who aren’t adopted, those who were adopted before 1974 and after 2007, and those born during the gap in those years, with the last group facing a legal hurdle to accessing a piece of their own histories.
Efforts to fix the problem go back to at least 2016. Last year the House managed to pass a version of the bill, but it never came up for a vote in the Senate. Senator Jo Comerford, the mother of two adopted children, and cochair of the committee that took testimony on the bill, said, “I take this very personally.”
Jackson, who this year for the first time got to celebrate “two Mother’s Days,” said, “I ask you, and, honestly, I beg of you, to actually move this legislation forward.”
“No begging necessary,” replied the committee cochair, Representative Marjorie Decker.
Let’s hope not. A cohort of Massachusetts adoptees are being treated like second-class citizens. That’s just wrong. The Legislature can and must fix that this year.
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