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Opinion Editor’s Note: editorial reflect the opinions of the Star Tribune editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

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A new adoption law that went into effect in Minnesota on July 1 simplifies what is normally a complex process for adoptees – identifying their birth parents if they so choose – and gives them the dignity of having an important document that non-adopted people have always been entitled to. Birth parents can still express their preferences about contact, although previously filed non-disclosure agreements are no longer valid. The change ensures mutual respect between all parties in the adoption process – and builds on the same sense of goodwill going forward.

Previously, only those adopted in Minnesota after August 1, 1982, could view their original birth certificate at the state health department. Now, even those adopted before 1982 can access it. (In an adoption, the original certificate with the birth parents' names is replaced with one with the adoptive parents' names. This becomes – and remains – the adoptee's official birth certificate.)

This development is the result of decades of lobbying and efforts by adoptees to create more transparency for older adoptees, at a time when adoption looks very different today than it did in the past. Modern adoptions are usually very open processes in which the biological parents, or at least the identity of the parents, are involved in the child's life to varying degrees.

There was a surge in adoptions after World War II, at a time when things like having children out of wedlock and being a single parent were taboo. Secrecy and anonymity were central to the process back then, and birth parents often signed nondisclosure agreements guaranteeing their privacy. As of July 1, however, these affidavits have expired in Minnesota.

Despite written safeguards, the availability of DNA tests and websites such as ancestry.com has increasingly led adoptees to research their origins on their own. The results are sometimes uncomfortable and confusing, especially for birth parents and relatives who are surprised by unexpected contact.

Allowing adopted children legal access to their birth certificates is one way to constructively navigate this process. It's important for those who have given their children up for adoption to know they still have a say. The new law allows them to fill out a contact preference form, available with additional information on a Minnesota Department of Health webpage, where they can indicate what level of contact they agree to — including none at all or only through an intermediary. A biological child would receive that information if they requested a birth certificate. “Adopted children are usually very respectful of birth parents' wishes regarding contact,” a representative of the Children's Home Society, a Minnesota adoption agency, told an editorial writer.

This law is especially important because Minnesota has historically been a national leader in adoptions, especially international adoptions. After the Korean War, Minnesota became the number one destination for Korean adoptees. International adoptees from Minnesota can benefit from the new law if they used a Minnesota adoption agency and the agency has identifying information on the birth parents. The likelihood of the agency having identifying information may vary depending on the agency, country, and decade of adoption, but it is certainly a possibility for international adoptees to explore.

This change in the law is the right move for Minnesota and will allow the state to honor its long-standing tradition of adoption. Anyone who wants to access a birth certificate that was previously unavailable to them can go to the same Department of Health website (tinyurl.com/mn-adoption) and submit a request. Scroll down to “Accessing Original Birth Certificates (as of July 2024).” There is a $40 fee.

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