On Thursday evening, Lorraine Dusky was sitting in her Sag Harbor kitchen, crying, holding the hand of her husband, Tony Brandt, as they watched a televised broadcast of the State Assembly approving a bill to unseal adoption records.
The final tally on June 20 was 140-6. The Senate approved the legislation the same day, 56-6.
For 83 years, no party involved in an adoption — adoptive parents, natural parents and adopted children — has been allowed legally to access birth records, including original birth certificates, in New York State.
“It’s a simple bill,” Assembly Fred W. Thiele Jr. said on Thursday, June 20, after the votes, explaining that it establishes the right of adoptees to receive a certified copy of their birth certificate upon reaching the age of 18. “It’s an idea whose time is long overdue. It’s decades overdue. It’s hard to put yourself in that position and understand the feelings.”
“There is a woman in my hometown who was a birth mother and gave up her baby in 1966,” Mr. Thiele said of Ms. Dusky. “She’s been an advocate for this bill for decades,” he said, adding that the new bill gives people the right to access their health information, circumstances of their birth, and genetics. “It’s never too late to do the right thing,” he said.
The bill to unseal the certificates will now go to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature. If the governor signs the bill, then as of January 15, 2020, adopted people in New York will have the right to a copy of their unamended birth certificate for the first time in 83 years.
Ms. Dusky said she has been praying for this day since she signed the relinquishment papers in April 1966, to give up her daughter, Jane.
“Even talking about it to you right now is making me cry,” Ms. Dusky said over the phone on Tuesday morning. “I’m kind of speechless. It’s so emotional.”
Ms. Dusky, a Sag Harbor resident and author of “Hole In My Heart,” which tells the story of giving up her daughter, Jane, for adoption, has lobbied for the unsealing of birth certificates for decades.
She was 22 and unmarried when she discovered she was pregnant after an affair with a married man she had met through work. In 1965, she quit her job and hid her pregnancy from everyone, including her family, because it was an unforgiving era for children born out of wedlock, she said.
Ms. Dusky remembered reading a piece by Enid Nemy in The New York Times on July 25, 1972, about Florence Fisher, who had started Adoptees Liberty Movement Association. The piece was headlined “Adopted Children Who Wonder, What Was Mother Like?”
Reading that article, Ms. Dusky realized that some adoptees do want to know where they come from. She then launched a nine-year search for her daughter while lobbying for unsealing adoption records across the country.
The first piece Ms. Dusky wrote about unsealing birth certificates was in Cosmomagazine in 1973. She later came out publicly in The New York Timesin 1975 about being a natural mother who put her daughter up for adoption.
Unknown to Ms. Dusky, Jane Ann Rhymer had epilepsy, and her adoptive parents were searching for Ms. Dusky to understand Jane’s medical history.
Although the records will be unsealed in New York once Governor Cuomo signs the bill, Ms. Dusky said there is still more work to do, as 40 other states do not have legislation as strong as New York’s will be.
“The fact that New York opened the records is critical, because it’s the largest of all the states that have open records,” she explained. “I’m hoping that other states follow.”