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Gov. Pawlenty vetoed an obscure bit of legislation on May 16, one that few Minnesotans have heard of and in which even fewer have any interest. But for tens of thousands of Minnesotans whose lives have been touched by adoption over the last 90 years, it was a significant event, one in which Gov. Pawlenty reached the right result for all the wrong reasons.

Every birth in Minnesota is memorialized by a birth certificate. A second birth certificate is issued for any minor adopted in Minnesota. Since 1917, Minnesota has sealed the original birth certificates of those born and adopted in this state. Initially, the information was locked away only from the general public. Over the years, however, the law was changed to prohibit anyone from seeing the original birth certificate, parent or offspring, adult or child. Under current law, some adult adoptees have access to their original birth certificates, some don’t. It all depends upon when they were born and whether one of their biological parents has told the state not to release that information to them.

The bill in question would have changed the situation slightly, allowing any adoptee at least 19 years of age to obtain an uncertified copy of his or her original certificate upon request, provided that one of the birth parents had not already vetoed the adoptee’s right to that information.

Neither the existing law, nor the bill vetoed last week by Gov. Pawlenty, makes sense to this adoptive father. Why my son should be denied the right to obtain a copy of his original birth certificate from the state, while I have the absolute right to my own, is a mystery. Both of our births were public events, like that of virtually every other person in this state. Yet, the state decided at some point in the distant past that some adults in this state should be denied access to this most fundamental personal information: who they are and where they came from.

No one should have the right to tell the state whether my son may have access to this information. Yet our current law and the failed attempt to modify it place that right in the hands of the man and woman who conceived him. Why? Because he was adopted after being born. Had he been placed in foster care, he would have the same rights I do. Whether he was born inside or outside of marriage, he would have the same rights I do. Whether he had been raised by one parent or two, he would have the same rights I do. But because he was adopted, the State of Minnesota has granted either of his biological parents the power to deny him the right enjoyed by every other non-adopted person in Minnesota: the right to know from whence he came.

The exercise of this power would not affect only my son. It would affect all those to whom he is related by blood and who may be deprived of the possibility of ever knowing him: his father, mother, grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings, nieces, nephews, and cousins. All because he was adopted.

Gov. Pawlenty was right to veto a bill that would have perpetuated this injustice. Sadly, he did so for all the wrong reasons. His veto was based not on a recognition of the rights of adult adoptees, but on the erroneous belief that those who relinquished children for adoption were in some way promised that the fact of the adoption would be kept forever secret by the state. He also cited a report that fewer than one-quarter of biological parents contacted by a single Minnesota adoption agency preferred not to have identifying information released by the agency.

Fortunately, my son was born in a country that does not seal original birth certificates. He already has a certified copy of his. He knows his origins. But thousands of others adopted in Minnesota since 1917 (and their descendants) will never know theirs, so long as Minnesota continues to meddle in their private lives.

Ninety-one years of such meddling is more than enough. Perhaps our next Legislature and our next governor will recognize that the state has no legitimate role to play in this area of our lives. Perhaps they will recognize that adult adoptees are indeed adults, not the children they once were. But they’ll need to hear from us to do so.

James M. Hamilton is a St. Paul attorney in private practice and an adoptive father. His e-mail address is jamesmhamilton@aol.com.