Archive for January 7th, 2008

A comment on yesterday’s blog from JA taking issue with birth parent names on birth certs started a thought process that once again grew out of the box and turned into a post.

Stating that “even if a married woman gives birth to a child fathered by someone who isn’t her husband, the husband’s name legally must go on the BC”, JA relates a number of thoughts that have me pondering …

I have no doubt that there are many, many people with birth certs that don’t reflect the reality of paternal genetic contributions, but that feels like a different issue.

JA does bring up an interesting point on the document in general, however, and that is its use as a commonly demanded proof of … what? … existence? citizenship? that seems outmoded in this day and age.

If, for example, I needed to prove identity, how far does a paper issued 56 years ago go to prove anything? I happen to still use my maiden name for part of my signature, but I could just as easily not, and the information on my birth cert is far from anything that could identify me now.

As a document of birth, it seems right to me that the details included should be about those involved in that process … although there is nothing to stop a mother from filling in the name of her husband even if she knows the child was fathered by another, so it is an imperfect process from the beginning.

But I’m drawn back to the question of the raison d’etre of the document in the first place. If proof of birth is the point, why would information such as the marital status of the parents need to be included? After all, a person is just as much a person … just as “born”, so to speak … whether or not their mother was a certain age or race or married to the father.

If, as JA suggests, a certificate of birth is “not technically about who the bio parents are”, what is it about? That there is any indication implied by a birth cert as to “who is responsible for the child” seems far fetched, and I wonder what the point is of having a legal document to show that someone was born when the person required to present the document so obviously has been.

If documentation is required for the reason of compiling a statistical database, why would the same doc need to be used as identification? If it is date or place of birth that needs to be established to determine if someone is old enough to drive or to obtain some of whatever citizenship conveys, does possession of a paper that says that at this time on such-and-such a day, so-and-so, weighing such-and-such, was born to so-and-so and so-and-so, who either were or were not married to each other, was delivered by doctor-fill-in-the-blank at this hosptial-that-no-longer-exists prove anything? I have yet to hear about any official agency asking someone to remove a shoe to compare the baby footprint to the size 12 wanting to drive in the state, but that seems it would be better proof that it’s the same person standing in front of you … a person who may very well go by a completely different name, as well as being much bigger than 6 lbs. 12 ounces … as the one mentioned on the paper.

There’s no question that many of the processes we go through in life require the sharing of information that could be considered private. Being required to produce tax returns, for example, seems intrusive considering how many people could peruse at their pleasure just because they’re in a position of access. Is it anyone’s business who you decide to support through charitable donations or what you spent on entertainment or medical care?

But to our issue here …

I agree that changes to the way birth certs work do need addressing all the way around. It seems one of those things that people assume will always be the way it is because it is the way it is, so little thought is put into challenging a status quo that appears so static.

As it is, however, when we’re talking about people born 20, 30, 40 years ago and more, it’s not changes to today’s birth certs that is at issue or the process of getting a driver’s license or a passport, but rather their right to know the names of the people who made them. I can’t speak for anyone, but it seems to me that a paper listing birth parent names presented to DMV wouldn’t bring even a glimmer of a blink to either the DMV employee or the person applying for a license or whatever, but it would serve to prove that so-and-so was born to so-and-so then and there, and when the so-and-so that was born is you, that’s a really big deal … and a basic right.

A couple of other random thoughts on this …

Suppose someone’s father, say, died of drink or a venereal disease or OD’d on heroin, and that person needed to present the death certificate to numerous people and agencies as proof of death for whatever purposes. Would that be reason enough to list something less controversial … or embarrassing or less likely to have someone make an assumption about that person or that person’s family … as the cause of death on the document? If so, there would be little point to “official” versions, would there? If not, then why should a certificate of death be any less malleable than a birth cert?

Another thought involves a woman I know who was married for a while and had two children with her husband. Eventually, she divorced and had another child by another man. She insisted, however, that her third child have the same last name as her first two kids, the last name of her ex-husband, and went to great lengths to make this happen.

Her reasoning? She didn’t want people to learn her kids’ names and think she had children by different men. The fact that this is, indeed, the case had no impact at all on her. By massaging her third child’s reality, she virtually wiped out his legal connection to his biological father, proposed a connection that doesn’t exist in anyone’s mind, as her ex knows perfectly well this is not his child, created a false relationship between siblings, set up a confusion that will last a lifetime for the poor kid, and perhaps stimulated some suspicion all the way around as to who is who to whom in that family.

I’m asking a lot of questions today, and hoping for discussion, enlightenment and answers … and while I’m here, I would like to thank everyone participating in this effort — and I know it is an effort — to create one little corner of the adoption-related world where one topic can be deliberated, one issue can be addressed, and perhaps one wrong can be righted.

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