Historic Ballot Initiative Restores Adoptee Rights in Oregon
Voters convinced by arguments based on fairness, justice, and equal protection.
On Tuesday, November 3, 1998, Oregon voters resoundingly approved Measure 58, the Bastard Nation-inspired “Adoptee Rights Initiative,” which restored adult adoptee access to original birth certificates upon request. The measure passed by a healthy margin of 57% to 43%, repealing the 1957 law which had sealed adoptee records.
Helen Hill, the measure’s Chief Petitioner, said, “The victory of Measure 58 signals a death knell to the failed experiment of sealed records. We are being reborn into integrity and honesty.”
The ballot initiative in Oregon was groundbreaking in several ways.
This was the first time in U.S. history that an initiative to restore the right of adopted adults to request and receive their original birth certificate was placed on a statewide ballot. It was also the first time a sealed records law was repealed in the United States. (Kansas and Alaska never sealed original birth certificates.)
The measure was also significant because it framed open records for adult adoptees in terms of civil rights, fairness, and equal protection under the law rather than in terms of searching for birth relatives out of psychological need or medical necessity.
The success of Measure 58 in Oregon unmistakably demonstrated that the general public supports opening records to adult adoptees.
Birth parents and adoptees came out overwhelmingly in support of Measure 58, as did the general public, which recognized the inherent right of all people to know the facts of their birth. Voters confirmed that sealed records laws stigmatize adoption by perpetuating the assumption that adoptees are not to be trusted with the basic facts of their origin.
The passage of Measure 58 in Oregon signaled the beginning of the end of state-sanctioned lies and secrecy in adoption.
After a series of unsuccessful court challenges that went as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case, the law finally went into effect on May 30, 2000. As of May 2002, nearly 6700 adoptees had requested their original birth certificates.