There is a single copy of Puppy's original birth certificate in the fire-safe box in my office. Because both of his first parents continue to be part of his life he also has access to whatever information they will share with him about his origins.
For awhile I thought that was enough. I thought that the openness in our adoption negated his personal need for open records. If Puppy had his first parents in his life in the flesh, why would he need to see their names on a piece of paper? Open records would just give him access to information that he already had, and while I supported open records in principle I was grateful my little guy didn't need them. I thought it was ridiculous that the state sealed those records, but ultimately unimportant.
Then I started thinking about his life as an adult. And I thought about trying to nurture openness in his adoption. And I realized open records were actually very important.
At the most basic level, I believe Puppy has a civil right to the legal record of his birth. Adult Puppy should be able to contact the State of California and receive copies of both of his birth certificates--original and amended. The fact that he cannot is simple discrimination. He shouldn't have to rely on my fire-safe box or on K and R's willingness to share information with him. There is already quite a bit of informal privilege denied adopted persons. But this denial is codified into state law. And, as an adoptive parent, that pisses me off.
I also began to see how sealing records works against those of us advocating for open adoption. They are simply an outdated and unwarranted part of adoption. Closed records arose in most states within my parents' lifetime. (Closed records--available to no one--are distinguished from confidential records, which are available to involved parties but not the general public.) They were premised on the idea that adopted children needed to be protected from the wayward parents who conceived them and the stigma of illegitimacy. First parents needed to hide their shameful secret from prying eyes. Adoptive parents needed to be able to pretend they were a biological family. Sealing birth records provided a legal framework for all these purposes.
Maintaining closed records perpetuates those stigmas and, in doing so, works against open adoption. Closed records play into the fiction that there is something shameful in adoptees' pasts, something which needs to be hidden away for everyone's protection. They reinforce the idea that first parents should disappear into the shadows after relinquishment if they know what's best for them and their child. They suggest to adoptive parents that the only way to be their child's real parent is to see themselves as replacements for the biological parents. Those are baneful ideas in open adoption.
Keeping records closed perpetuates the myth that open adoption is a fringe movement, flirting with the potentially dangerous idea of not cutting adoptees off from their families of origin. Closed records and the system built around them are why so many people ask, "Isn't it confusing?" and "Doesn't it make you nervous?" when they hear about open adoption. Because they've picked up the notion that the only way adoption can really work is to erase one family completely and create another in its place, shrouded in secrecy and anonymity.
So I advocate for open records for two reasons: because adult adoptees are being denied their rights and because I care about open adoption. The openness in Puppy's adoption doesn't change the fact that the State of California still treats him as a second-class citizen. And there are far too many others--including Puppy's first mom, also an adoptee--who have neither the openness nor the access. That is wholly unfair.