Adoptees wait for vital link

Despite a hold on the law, they gather at the state records office to apply for the birth certificates that might reveal the names of their biological moms

Friday, December 4 1998

By Spencer Heinz of The Oregonian staff

"Howdy-do," Curtis Endicott told the cashier.

Through the hole in the glass, Endicott slid his $15 --payment for a birth certificate that he has not been allowed to see during his 50 years of living.

David Mackinnon of Hillsboro completes the form to obtain his birth certificate from the state vital records office in Portland as his 10-month-old son Shea watches.
That was the small but unforgettable part of a high-key Thursday for Endicott and about 100 other adoptees and supporters who showed up at the state's vital records office in Northeast Portland.

They said they were there to stand up for their civil rights. Oregon became the centerpoint of a national push as adult adoptees from all walks of life were expected to converge at counters around the United States to ask for their birth certificates.

In Oregon, the answer was no.

An adoptee's original birth certificate -- which often can contain the long-confidential name of the adoptee's birth mother -- remains legally off-limits to the adoptee in all states but Kansas and Alaska.

It was supposed to be the first day that Oregon-born adult adoptees could obtain their birth certificates after voters' 57 percent-to-43 percent approval last month of Measure 58.

The election represented the first time in U.S. history that the public had voted on such an adoption law, but four birth mothers seeking confidentiality sued the state on Tuesday, and an Oregon judge placed a hold on the law until legal issues could be resolved in coming months.

No hearing date has been set as lawyers prepare for the courtroom battle.

Meanwhile, Thursday's gathering at the Portland State Office Building brought supporters together in a family-like atmosphere to protest and apply for their certificates in hopes the measure will prevail.

"No more secrets, no more lies," they started to chant outside.

Then they walked inside, past a security guard who politely held open a lobby door, and they rode successive elevator rides to the second-floor counter where adoptees with names such as Jeff, Karen, Curtis and dozens of others put down their good-faith money for the potential paper link to their pasts. The state says the money is refundable if the law does not go into effect.

"The issue is standing up for our rights," said Endicott, who expects the measure will prevail on constitutional issues in court. "Four women have more voice than the voting public?"

Endicott said that knowing he was adopted did not make much difference to him until about age 10, in the fifth grade, when everyone was doing their family histories and classmates asked whom he was related to.

"All of a sudden, I realized I don't relate," Endicott recalled. "That leaves you with a real hollow empty shell. You get to sometimes where you say, 'Who am I, and what's the point?' "

Endicott suffers from emphysema and a degenerative spinal disease and is retired, he said, from running a computer shop in St. Helens.

If the law goes into effect and he ends up learning the name of his biological mother, Endicott said, he probably would sit down and think about what to do next. He says he loves his adoptive parents, but he thinks he might start to also look for the woman who gave birth to him.

"They understand that," he said. "I've told them it doesn't mean I love them any less."

He said he probably would try to find a phone number and give her a call and ask whether they could meet. He said his approach would be straightforward.

"Tell them who I am, and what I'm up against, and what it's about," he said.

And if the law's opponents would suggest that his call could be traumatic for everyone, he replies: "How traumatic is it for the mother carrying that hole in her that's never been filled?"

He said: "Hopefully, they'll say, 'Yes, it's me.' And we'll set up a meeting some place and take it from there."

Those who argue the other side were not there. One of those opponents of the measure is an adoption worker elsewhere in the Willamette Valley who requested anonymity because, she said, some people in her life do not know that she relinquished a child for adoption.

The woman -- who was not one of the four birth mothers who sued the state -- said she opposed the measure. She thinks it did not take into consideration the desire of some birth parents not to be contacted by children they relinquished during an era when postwar society showcased the "perfect" American family.

"It was absolutely shame-based, the relinquishment of a child," she said. "Birth mothers who have not ever told family members and who have wrestled with this issue are concerned, deeply concerned. They have lived with the fear of being found out for 20, 30, 40, 50 years.

"From that point, everything's based on a lie . . . . You go on building on that deletion, and it gets more and more difficult as the years go by that, 'Oh, by the way, I didn't tell you something.' "

Thursday's crowd at the vital records office included everyone from adoptees to adoptive parents to birth parents.

Helen Hill, an adoptee and a Nehalem elementary school art teacher who served as the measure's chief petitioner, stood by the elevator as people came and went. She said she was looking forward to Oregon setting a precedent by not only being the first state to vote for such a law, but for a judge to decide on its constitutionality. That would be a "double whammy," she said, and she praised the state vital records staff for efficient work that day.

"They were just wonderful," Hill said. "And we were wonderful, too."

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