TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Gov. Chris Christie signed a law that will allow people adopted in the state access to their birth records, a decision that resolves a political issue that smoldered for more than three decades before a devoted group of activists could finally sway a governor.
Christie, a Republican who has an adopted sister, agreed to the plan only after reaching a compromise with a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Under the deal, birth parents of children adopted before Aug. 1, 2015, will be able to have their names redacted from birth records.
The birth parents of children adopted later will not have that option, but they will be able to express a preference that they not be contacted, or that they be contacted only through an intermediary.
The records themselves will not be opened until 2017, giving birth parents time to make their initial declarations, which they could change later.
A coalition of adoptees and parents of adoptees has been pressing lawmakers since 1980 for unfettered access to birth records, arguing that adopted people need family medical histories and should have access to know about their birth families’ histories and so that parents who give up children may be able to shed some of the shame that they could feel. The opposition, including Roman Catholic church officials, said women who gave up babies decades ago were promised anonymity.
For Pam Hasegawa, of the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education, this day has been 34 years in the making.
“Democracy is not a piece of cake, it’s a lot of work,” she told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith. “It gives us an opportunity to know who we were when we were born. It’s our proof of where we sit on the human continuum.”
For Bob MacNish, the wait of nearly three years more is too long. He does not know whether his birth mother is alive now and figures if she is, it’s possible she will not be by 2017. “I’m 70 now,” he said. “I’ve got to wait until I’m 72.”
MacNish, a Weehawken native who lives in New Milford, learned only when he was 22 that he was adopted in a private deal arranged by a doctor and lawyer.
Under a 1940 law, adoption records were sealed. When he was in his 30s, MacNish came close to learning the identity of his mother when he asked to see his birth certificate at a municipal office. He said he tried to peel back the yellow paper covering her name, but a clerk stopped him before he could.
Christie, who previously vetoed a similar bill, said he was willing to work out a compromise with advocates as long as the privacy of birth parents could be preserved.
He said the issue was personal for him because his parents adopted a daughter, Dawn, when Christie was 11 and she was 2. Christie said he has been reluctant to talk about that in part because of the way he has always seen her.
“She was my sister,” Christie said, “not my adopted sister.”
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