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Published Tuesday June 30th, 2009 at 2:45pm

Original Article by Philip Marcelo

After years of trying, advocates pushing to make Rhode Island one of the few states that allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates won a major victory in the state House of Representatives.

Late Friday, the House unanimously passed a bill giving adoptees over the age of 18 the right to see their birth certificates. Under current law, that record is sealed by the state when a child is put up for adoption.

But it appears unlikely that the Senate, which reconvenes Tuesday for a one-day session, will go along with the change.

Senators have voiced strong opposition to the bill, which they say breaks the promise of anonymity given to mothers when they put their babies up for adoption.

"I was taken aback at what came out of the House. A lot of work has been done to balance the concerns and objections of everyone in the adoption community," said Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence, who chairs the committee that must approve the bill before it goes before the full Senate. "The House bill will not pass the Senate."

Perry worked with The Rhode Island Adoption Coalition for Equality, or TRACE, a group advocating for adoptees' rights, to develop legislation that she said struck a compromise between what adoptees have long sought and the concerns of birth parents and families with adopted children.

She came up with a bill would allow adult adoptees to obtain copies of their birth certificates, but only if their birth parents approved. It also gave birth parents the option to not have their current contact information released by the state.

But TRACE vehemently opposed the changes, saying that the measure, if passed, would have created two classes of adoptees. "Our position is that you negotiate on a budget, but not on civil-rights issues. And that is what this is about –– equal rights for everyone," said TRACE member Deborah Siegel.

Sen. J. Michael Lenihan, D-East Greenwich, who has an adopted daughter, says the General Assembly has already created a mechanism for adoptees and their birth parents to reconnect.

The Adoption Information and Reunion Registry Act, which Lenihan helped draft, lets biological parents send contact information to the state in the event their biological child wants to seek them out.

"Mothers gave up their children with the understanding that they would be guaranteed anonymity. The guarantee is there and it is a fact of life. I cannot in good faith turn back on that," said Lenihan.

Advocates counter that Rhode Island law makes no such promise of confidentiality since birth certificates are not sealed until a child is adopted, so that the only guarantee to a mother when she gives up her child for adoption is no future legal liability.

They argue too that the House version of the bill (sponsored by Portsmouth Democrat Amy Rice) protects birth parents by giving them the option to have the state withhold their current contact information.

But without support from Senate leaders, the bill stands little chance of success as the legislative session moves to a close.

Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, said the Senate on Tuesday will focus only on legislation that has garnered at least some consensus. All other bills will be taken up at a later date, she said.