Easier access to adoption data sought by advocates

Reunions: A proposed Utah law would facilitate later meetings between adoptees and their birth parents
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For as long as he can remember, Tyson Asay has wondered about his roots.

Born in Georgia and adopted by a Utah couple when he was 2 months old, he has no knowledge of his biological parents other than the fact his birth mother was unmarried and 18 years old when she surrendered him. Asay, 22, has tried without success to find her.

"I'm told she wanted me to have a good life and family because she couldn't provide for me at the time," said the University of Utah finance major.

Hoping to help other adoptees, he contacted Rep. Kory Holdaway to find a way to make adoptee-birth parent reunions easier for adoptees to arrange. The Taylorsville Republican is sponsoring a bill that would allow any adoptee, age 21 or older, to obtain a copy of his or her original birth certificate from Utah's Office of Vital Statistics, unless the birth parents have filed an affidavit requesting that it not be disclosed.

Under current Utah law, original birth certificates carrying the birth parents' names, are sealed after an adoption is finalized and a new birth certificate is issued.

Nothing prohibits adoptive and biological parents from agreeing to reunions on their own. But Holdaway says, "I'm saying the default position should be flipped; for the birth certificate to be available unless otherwise directed."

The bill won't help Asay because it would apply only to adoptions occurring after Jan. 1, 2007. But he said he hopes it passes so that other adoptees can avoid his disappointment.

"I'm not looking for a new mom or new family. I love my parents. I just want to know a couple of things about where I came from, like my family medical history," said Asay, newly married and looking to start his own family.

"I'm not exactly sure what I am ethnicity-wise," he said. "I think I'm part black and part white, but some people assume I'm Hispanic or Polynesian . . . I fit in with everybody pretty much, but I never wholly feel a part of any group."

Under Holdaway's bill, birth parents who ask to keep a birth certificate sealed could add a caveat: They could ask to be contacted when a child asks for a copy, giving them the opportunity to change their mind.

In that situation, the bill directs vital statistics workers to attempt to locate and contact a birth parent when an adoptee seeks the birth certificate.

The state's vital statistics office operates a Voluntary Adoption Registry to assist in family reunions. For $25, an adult adoptee can register to find a biological parent, and a parent can register to find an adult child. But both parties must be looking for each other for a match to occur.

When Asay turned 21, he registered. But he said, "Utah tells me you need to register in the state you were born in and Georgia tells me you need to register in the state where your adoption was finalized. So I pretty much have no hope."

Michelle Muirbrook, chief supervisor at vital records, admits the existing registry isn't foolproof.

Since 1987 when the registry opened, only 1,453 people have signed up and 148 matches have been made. In 2004 alone, vital statistics processed 1,671 adoptions.

But Muirbrook blames sluggish participation on lack of awareness.

"There is no advertising. If people knew about it, we'd have more matches," said Muirbrook. "It's really a lot of fun when we have a match. It's one of the best parts of my job."

Shelley Riley, president of the Utah Adoption Council, would not comment on Holdaway's bill directly without reading it. But she said in emotionally-charged arenas such as adoption, sometimes it's better to avoid one-size-fits-all solutions.

"Whether the adopted family or birth family choose to disclose information is a decision to be made at a personal level," said Riley, who heads up Children's Aid Society in Ogden. "Part of what I do as an agency is tell families that adoption is a beautiful way to build a family and it shouldn't be a secret. You should talk to your children about where they came from."

Holdaway argues his bill gives families even more flexibility, because it allows birth parents to refuse disclosure outright or conditionally, leaving open the option of releasing their names if a child comes looking for them.