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Adoptees celebrate new state law allowing access to birth certificates

Dec 27, 2019

Starting Jan. 15, adoptees over the age of 18 in New York state will be able to access their birth certificate without a court order. 

Brad Cupples stands beside his birth mother in a family photo.
Credit Brad Cupples

Brad Cupples is an adoptee who advocated to change legislation in the early 2000s. Cupples, 71, said part of the battle has been overcoming stigma around out-of-wedlock births, which was more prominent when he was born in the 1940s.

“It was a thing that was hidden, that was never talked about, that was considered shameful. Girls were told to put it behind you and don’t look back,” Cupples said.

Those who oppose the law say that it infringes on biological parents’ privacy. However, State Assembly member Pamela Hunter, who is also an adoptee, said on the Assembly floor that the previous law was outdated.

“We’re talking about a law from the 1930s," Hunter said. "And it’s hard for me to even imagine standing here as a black woman when in the 1930s I could not stand here. We still did not have civil rights.”

For Cupples, everything changed when he had his first son. 

“For the first time, I touched someone who I was blood-related to, and that was a very startling and electrifying situation for me,” Cupples said.

He was 35 years old when he became a father. He said in the years that followed, it became important to share family medical history with the doctors for the sake of his son. But when asked, all he could say is, “I don’t know.”

A day before he turned 1, Cupples was adopted by a couple who he said had been together for eight years but had no children of their own. He searched for and found his birth mother when he was 50 with the help of an online group of adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents. 

He met her through her brother, who never knew that his sister had had a child.

"He was very, very cautious at first, understandably. We met for the first time and the first thing he asked was to see my hands," he said. "The shape of my hand from the wrist to the thumb is a particular shape that is shared in the family. And once he saw that, he was fine."

Since he and his birth mother connected, they maintained a relationship until she died in August of this year. She was 90.

Cupples had been born on his mother's 19th birthday, and as they bonded, Cupples said that he and his mother would celebrate their shared birthdays by going out gambling. He said they had 21 worthwhile years together, though it took him 50 years to meet her.

But still, he said, despite all of that, he cannot access his birth certificate. 

On Jan. 15, that will change for Cupples and all adoptees whose records are in New York state, so long as they are 18 or older. 

Unfortunately, Cupples' younger sister -- who was also adopted -- died before this legislation takes effect. For adoptees who have died, direct descendants and lawful representatives of deceased adoptees will be able to access their birth certificates.

Cupples said that this new law undoes decades of discrimination.

“We were kind of treated as second-class citizens because there was something that someone could get but we couldn’t solely because of the circumstances of our birth,” he said.