The Cradle Blog

A Vital Record: birth certificates, adoption and the Supreme Court

birth certificate for adopted child

There has been a flurry of news lately regarding states’ rights, adoption and same-gender families. While it is fine for adults to debate where the line between church and state may lie, and what should be legal and what not, it is concerning to us as child welfare professionals that too often the rights of the child are being short-changed.

In the case being heard before the Supreme Court this week, we stand on the side of safety and security for the child. The case, in part, revolves around birth certificates and if a state can refuse to list both legally married parents in a same gender family.

We believe the child at the center of this debate has a right to claim both parents as his own. He has a right to accessible health care, social security, education….no different from any other child. It shouldn’t matter which state he was born in or which state he is being raised in. This record, his birth certificate, is vital to him and therefore vital to us as child welfare professionals.

At long last, adopted persons in many states now have access to their original birth certificate; the one that lists their biological parents. This simple piece of paper is important to them because it documents something. It documents that they were born at a certain time and place. It documents that they were born to particular parents. All of this matters. It is part of who they are.

The current battle, however, is about another birth certificate. This second birth certificate is issued only to adopted individuals in this country. This document is legally amended to list the child’s adoptive parents as his parents. This is the document that an adoptive family will use throughout the child’s life, for matters large and small. Filing for health insurance, social security, education are just a few of the many occasions a family needs to prove they belong together. It certifies that the adoptive parents have the legal right to raise this child as they would a child born to them. It certifies that this particular child has the legal right to claim his adoptive parents as his parents.

To an adopted person, both birth certificates hold significance. They certify different but equally important things. One attests to the fact that he has biological roots that are part of his identity. The other attests to the fact that he has adoptive parents and they belong to each other as a family.  

Both birth and adoptive families are significant to an adopted child. Working together, they create that sense of belonging and security we wish for all children. No child, adopted or not, should be denied the right to have their vital records fully and accurately represent the truth about them and their family.