TRENTON - It took more than 30 years, but state lawmakers on Thursday gave final approval to a revised New Jersey Adoptees' Birthright Bill - allowing adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates - that is set to be signed into law.
The measure will enable adoptees 18 and older to gain vital family medical and genealogical information.
The Assembly voted, 57-18, to approve the measure. The Senate approved it, 29-5, last week after Gov. Christie conditionally vetoed it with recommended changes on April 28.
The bill, revised to address the governor's concerns, heads back to Christie, who a spokesman said will sign it on Tuesday.
The governor had said he would accept it if his suggestions were adopted. His signature will culminate a decades-old odyssey for the bill, which repeatedly fell short of either the votes it needed or a governor's signature.
Christie and the Legislature reached a historic compromise on April 29 on the measure. It was the second time the Republican governor had conditionally vetoed the bill. The first time was in 2011, and his recommendations then were unacceptable to the bill's sponsors and adoptee advocacy groups.
Under the compromise, the law will take effect Dec. 31, 2016, instead of six months from its signing. It gives birth parents of children who are adopted before Aug. 1, 2015, until the end of 2016 to ask that their names be removed from birth certificates. If they do so, they will be asked to give a family health history.
Biological parents of children adopted after Aug. 1, 2015, would not have the option of removing their names.
The requirement for a confidential intermediary to facilitate contact between birth parents and adoptees - which opponents of the bill had asked for and Christie insisted on three years ago - was revised and made an option.
Birth parents would be allowed to indicate to a state registrar their preference for contact - direct contact, contact through a confidential intermediary whom the mother may choose, or no contact. If a contact preference form is filed, the birth parents must provide a family health history.
Christie said in signing off on the conditional veto that he was striving to reach a balance between protecting the privacy of birth parents and giving adoptees access to crucial medical and genealogical information.
With Christie's signature, New Jersey will join nine other states that have unsealed adoptee records since 1995. Colorado's governor signed that state's adoptee access bill on Thursday. Pennsylvania lawmakers are reviewing a similar measure.
While proponents championed the measure passionately for decades, it was opposed with equal tenacity by a powerful coalition made up of New Jersey Right to Life, the state's Catholic Conference, New Jersey State Bar Association, and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. All argued that the bill violates the privacy of birth parents.
The Right to Life group said that if signed into law, the bill would increase abortions in the state.
"We thank the senators and Assembly members who stood on principle and voted 'no' on this flawed, inequitable proposal which will disincentivize adoptions and encourage abortions," Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right To Life, the state's largest antiabortion group, said in an e-mail.
"After August 2015, New Jersey women will be denied the option of having a private adoption," Tasy said, adding that "contrary to the claims of a vocal special interest minority who advocated for this proposal, not all birth parents and not all adoptees want contact."
Martha Gelarden, 60, an independent studio artist from Collingswood, however, was happy to see the measure finally reach the finish line.
"As it stands, this Birthright Bill is about the future," Gelarden said.
Five years ago she reconnected with her son, Adam, whom she gave up for adoption 39 years ago. She responded to him after he e-mailed her. They have stayed close since.
"It means that no mother, for whatever reason, forced to surrender her child to adoption will be locked away in the shame," Gelarden said. ". . . It gives birth/original mothers a voice for the first time since the outdated law designed to protect adoptive parents was enacted in the World War II era. It means in the future, there will be no more secret adoption in New Jersey, and that is amazing.
"This little piece of paper, the long form Original Birth Certificate, answers questions of identity that most Americans take for granted.
"Who am I? What is my name, really? Where was I born? When was I born? Who are my parents?"